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33 Law & Soc'y Rev. 667 (1999)
Attorney Expertise, Litigant Success, and Judicial Decisionmaking in the U.S. Courts of Appeals

handle is hein.journals/lwsocrw33 and id is 677 raw text is: Attorney Expertise, Litigant Success, and Judicial
Decisionmaking in the U.S. Courts of Appeals
Susan Brodie Haire                              Stefanie A. Lindquist
Roger Hartley
In the U.S. legal system, litigants frequently retain counsel to represent
their interests in civil cases, particularly when the stakes are high. Scholarly
work and anecdotal evidence suggest that variation in the quality of advocacy
has the potential to affect litigant success. We examine the relationship be-
tween attorney characteristics, case outcomes, and judicial voting in products
liability decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Our analysis found some differ-
ences in the levels of experience and specialization of counsel representing
defendants and plaintiffs and that counsel expertise was, at times, related to
litigant success. In a multivariate model of decisionmaking, judges were less
likely to support the position of plaintiffs when they were represented by coun-
sel appearing for the first time before the circuit. When defendants were repre-
sented by attorneys who did not specialize in relevant areas of the law, judges
were more likely to decide in favor of the plaintiff. These findings suggest that
those attorneys who do not meet a minimum threshold of expertise will be less
likely to find judicial support for their client than other attorneys. Such attor-
neys may be less successful as a result of their lack of familiarity with the law
and appellate process or because they make poor choices regarding the likeli-
hood of success on appeal.
Stratification within the private legal profession in the
United States has been well documented (Abel 1988; Heinz and
Laumann 1994). In general, scholars have divided the legal pro-
fession into two groups or hemispheres, elite lawyers and ordi-
nary lawyers. Elite lawyers belong to large firms, represent large
corporations and wealthy individuals, and have high incomes on
average. In contrast, ordinary lawyers practice alone or in smaller
firms, represent one-shot individual clients, and have lower in-
comes on average (Abel 1988). The higher compensation and
prestige associated with employment in elite law firms suggests
A preliminary version of this manuscript was presented at the annual meeting of the
Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago in April 1997. Helpful comments on
earlier drafts were offered by Craig Emmert, Kevin McGuire, and Susette Talarico. The
authors gratefully acknowledge the research assistance provided by Kiki Caruson and
Mark Degennaro. Address correspondence to Susan Haire, Department of Political Sci-
ence, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 (e-mail: <cmshaire@arches.uga.edu>).
Law & Society Review, Volume 33, Number 3 (1999)
© 1999 by The Law and Society Association. All rights reserved,

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