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Section of Litigation

Civil Trial Practice Standards

The civil jury trial lies at the foundation of the American system of justice, constitutionally protected in the Seventh Amendment. Promoting improvements in the jury trial is a core mission – and one of the highest priorities – of the American Bar Association, and is reflected in existing ABA standards. See ABA Principles for Juries and Jury Trials.

The American Bar Association adopted the original Civil Trial Practice Standards in February 1998 to standardize and promotethe use of the innovative trial techniques included therein. The Standards were drafted by a Task Force of the ABA Section of Litigation that included four past and present Chairs of the Section of Litigation; distinguished plaintiffs’ and defense counsel from around the country — from firms with as few as two lawyers to firms of several hundred; highly respected state and federal judges; and representatives of the Judicial Division of the ABA and the American College of Trial Lawyers. Before they were finalized, drafts of the Standards were distributed for public comment to every state and major local bar association; all sections of the ABA; other bar organizations; and hundreds of state and federal judges, and trial lawyers, across the country.

The Standards fill an important gap. They recommend procedures and otherwise furnish guidance that is not available else where and are designed to foster and ensure a fair trial in both state and federal court. Critics of the jury trial have questioned the ability of jurors to decide complex cases fairly. The procedures recommended in the Civil Trial Practice Standards are particularly useful in complex cases and provide jurors the tools they need to come to fair decisions in all cases.

In light of the passage of time since the Civil Trial Practice Standards were adopted as official ABA policy, a Task Force of the ABA Section of Litigation was formed for the sole purpose of reviewing and updating the Civil Trial Practice Standards. Consistent with the work of the original task force that drafted what became the Civil Trial Practice Standards, the UpdateTask Force reviewed and evaluated the Original Standards to consider whether they continued to address practical aspects of trial that were not fully addressed by rules of evidence or procedure and consider potential new Standards that would supplement and operate consistently with those rules.

A development of huge proportions in the updating of the original Civil Trial Practice Standards was the adoption in 2005 by the American Bar Association of the Principles for Juries and Jury Trials created by the American Jury Project. As noted in the preamble to the ABA Principles:

The American Bar Association recognizesthe legal community’s ongoing needto refine and improve jury practice so that the right to jury trial is preserved and juror participation enhanced. What follows is a set of 19 Principles that define our fundamental aspirations for the management of the jury system.

Significant core concepts included within Original Standards 1–10 were evaluated, refined and integrated into the aforementioned 19 Principles that comprise the ABA Principles for Juries and Jury Trials. As a result, in the Updated Standards that follow, five of the initial 10 Original Standards have been deleted and the remaining five have been revised consistent with the ABA Principles. In addition, based on the work of the Update Task Force, three additional revised and four new standards have been integrated into the Updated Civil Trial Practice Standards.

The revised and/or new standards integrated into the Updated Standards were unanimously adopted by the Council of the Section of Litigation in June 2004,September 2006 and/or June 2007. The revised and/or new Standards which are the subject of the Recommendation address the following topics.

  1. Juror Notebooks
  2. Juror Note-Taking
  3. Juror Questions for Witnesses
  4. Instructing the Jury
  5. Exhibit Availability During Jury Deliberations
  6. Methodology to Measure Limits on Trial Presentation
  7. “Qualifying” Expert Witnesses
  8. Electronic Filing
  9. Use of Tutorials to Assist the Court
  10. Summary Exhibits and Witnesses
  11. Organizing the Complex Case for trial
  12. Judicial Involvement with Settlement

The first eight topics represent revisions of pre-existing Standards. The next four topics are new. A more complete description of these Updated Standards is set forth in the standards report [PDF].