Courtesy of Jackson lawyer Cliff Johnson is this tort case filings graph used in a presentation Monday night by Cliff, Judge Kent McDaniel and Vicky Lowery to the Inns of Court. The graph shows tort filings in Mississippi from 1994 – 2012.

Tort filings peaked in 2002 with 10,617 tort cases filed in state court in Mississippi. By 2012, that number was down to 3,551 and still trending down. You can’t tell from the graph when tort filings were last at 2012 levels. The number of filings in 1994 was 5,056. It was some time before 1994.

Total civil filings are also down substantially–37% since 2002. The reason that total civil filings are not down as much as tort filings is that civil filings includes things like debt collection actions that have almost nothing to do with the litigation climate in the state and provide few jobs for lawyers.

The graph explains a lot about the pain felt in the legal profession over the last eight years or so. It was comparably easy for law firms to grow and lawyers to flourish in their own practices from pre-1994 through 2002 because there were twice as many tort cases filed per year compared to today.

But it wasn’t sustainable. It was a bubble. The bubble burst around 2002 and we’ve been in a decline ever since.

We needed a lot more lawyers in Mississippi in 2002 to work all the cases than we do today. That has resulted in a shaking out on both the plaintiff and defense side with contractions in both sides of the litigation bar.

It will be interesting to see how the filings look over the next five years covering 2013 – 2017. My guess is that tort filings will continue to decline in 2013 – 2014 and stabilize around 3,000 per year.

Also, keep in mind that those 3,000 cases are generally worth less than cases in the 1990’s when there were twice as many cases being filed. So the dollar impact of only 3,000 filings on the legal economy is greater than the 50% that the raw filing numbers would first suggest.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t still have an over-supply of lawyers. The number of lawyers in the state has risen over this time period. The excess lawyer issue is an issue nationwide that will take a decade or more to resolve.

Of course, these numbers only confirm what we’ve known for years. It’s harder to make a living practicing law in Mississippi than it used to be. You still can. It’s just not easy anymore.

There are plenty of good lawyers who have been forced out of private practice in the last eight years or so. It’s not necessarily a reflection on those lawyers’ skills other than rainmaking. Luck and chance have a lot to say about who the survivors are in private practice. We can feel more secure by pretending otherwise, but that’s the way it has shaken out.

  • Nature Boy

    Shocker….Seriously, I want to take a vote as to who is surprised that the number of lawsuits went down after 2 rounds of tort reform. Any of you feel like marching at the Capitol today with your white coat friends??? Anyone??? And remember, the Nature Boy says woooooooooooooooooooo!!!

  • Jane Tucker

    Everyone blames the defense bar for tort reform but, having done both,plaintiffs’ and defense work, I have to say that plaintiffs’ lawyers share in the blame. For instance, when I worked at a big firm, a lot of our work was defending lawsuits wherein the basic claim was “you sold shitty insurance to people too stupid to know it was shitty.” After that huge Trustmark verdict on force-placed insurance that wasn’t appealed, it was just a crazy legal environment caused by nothing more than greed. No wonder the bubble popped.

  • retired from private practice

    making a living as an attorney in Mississippi was never easy. my small town solo practice was feast or famine, and the fact that I am very poor at managing money only compounded the problems. I took the cure ten years ago and shut the door and found another way to earn a living as an attorney. I don’t regret it. I look around at people in private practice and I cannot imagine the misery they are enduring.

  • Harold

    One thing to remember is that defense firms now view each of those 4k odd cases as something to be cherished and milked to their full potential. So if you’re a plaintiff’s lawyer, you know at the outset that most cases involving a deep pockets defendant you’ll have to wade through more discovery and motions than before to get to any settlement. Which causes fewer lawsuits to be filed, which causes defense firms to churn the ones that do get filed even more. It feeds on itself.

  • randywallace

    Compare the number of cases with the number of attorneys in MS. Somewhere around 2006 the number of cases becomes smaller than the number of attorneys.

  • injustice4yall

    Mississippi was once an importer of tort cases. everyone wanted to have a case filed in Mississippi. I remember one ATLA convention and once they found out I was from Mississippi everyone wanted my card. That was about 2000. Then tort reform one hit but we were ok, however the second round was obscene. We have the worst tort laws in the United States and it is not even close. There were cases I used to take that were worth millions like Meso’s that I can not even file here now. My last three Mississippi Mesos went to freaking Delaware. The first thing I think when i get a decent case now if can I file it in another state or at least get it to federal courts. So few cases filed in the once infamous jackson County that the mass tort department has one retired lady manning it part time. I actually had defense lawyers call me after Florida’s reversal of tort reform wondering if it could happen in Mississippi too. But Mississippi a state of poorly educated rednecks that foolishly believes it is the Connecticut of the South or something could not kiss the ass of the Chamber fast enough. It was the Civil war we surrendered to the Yankees on day one.

    So lets see, a state with the worst tort laws in America by far, serious and consistent corruption issues in the judiciary, and no system to challenge the bias of any judge, 10 bad venues for every good one, an appellant system that reverses eight out of ten plaintiff verdicts, a starving defense bar that has to work every case to the bone, that has too many lawyers, and a pathetic weak bar that can not stop the runners or out of state lawyers from running amuck in the state, that takes an average of 3 to 4 years to get a case to trial. What could possibly go wrong here.