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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
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Posted: July 15, 2016

Doing the Numbers on the Commercial Division: Episode One: How Big Is It, Anyway?

This is the first in a series of posts presenting a quantitative description of the Commercial Division, with a special focus on New York County. Guest bloggers Jamie Sinclair and Isaac B. Zaur welcome your feedback, including suggestions for future posts. Jamie and Isaac would like to thank the Unified Court System’s Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks and Director of Research and Technology Chip Mount for their assistance in accessing some of the data discussed in this series.

We propose to start by exploring the scale of the workload. To begin with, here are a few raw numbers: At the end of 2015, 5,254 Commercial Division cases were pending across the State, of which 2,315 were in New York County. Statewide, the Commercial Division disposed of 3,363 cases last year. The nine judges of New York County’s Commercial Division accounted for 1,252 of those dispositions.

How big is that number? Mark Twain once said “comparison is the death of joy.” With that benediction, we begin our analysis by placing the NY County Commercial division data alongside a few contextual figures from various tribunals.

As compared to the State’s overall civil caseload:

From one point of view, the Commercial Division manages a tiny fraction of the state’s overall civil caseload. More than 1.7 million new civil matters were commenced in New York state in 2014. Just under 200,000 of those were plenary proceedings commenced in Supreme Court (as distinguished from matters commenced in courts of limited civil jurisdiction, ex parte applications and uncontested matrimonial matters).

Thus, the Commercial Division state-wide probably accounts for a between one and two percent of the overall Supreme Court civil caseload, and New York County’s Commercial Division for under one percent. (This assumes that new filings are comparable with dispositions, which appears to be true at gross level. Variations in caseloads across years will be the subject of a future post.)

As compared to its peers:

Speaking of courts whose caseload, though modest in numerical terms, cuts a wide swath in the business world, it is worth noting that Delaware’s Court of Chancery disposed of 1,294 civil matters in 2015. (This doesn’t count estate matters or other miscellaneous matters handled by Delaware’s Court of Chancery.) That figure is, perhaps coincidentally, almost exactly the same as the number of matters disposed of by New York County’s Commercial Division.

In future posts, we hope to draw more detailed comparisons with Delaware’s Court of Chancery, and to obtain similar information about other specialized business courts, including California’s Complex Litigation Departments. What the Delaware figure clearly shows, however, is that a relatively modest number of cases can have an outsized influence in how business is conducted not only in a state but across the nation and indeed the world.

As compared to its resources:

Nine judges were sitting in the New York County Commercial Division at the end of 2015. This makes for a mean of 257 pending cases per judge at the end of last year and 139 dispositions per judge over the course of the year.

Generally, two or three law clerks and one non-lawyer part clerk or secretary assist each Commercial Division judge.

Of course, individual judges’ caseloads differ, for a variety of reasons. We hope to explore the question of resources further in future posts.

As compared to the criminal docket:

As commercial practitioners, we spend very little time on criminal matters. However, as a further piece of context, it may be interesting to consider the criminal side of the State’s overall litigation caseload. About 1.9 million new criminal matters were commenced in 2014 (compared with 1.7 million new civil cases overall). Of that figure, 44,049 were filed as felonies. Just under 30,000 of the cases filed as felonies were actually indicted. Just over 46 thousand felonies were resolved: approximately 40,000 by guilty plea, 3,000 by dismissal, 1,100 by conviction after trial, 386 by acquittal, and the remainder by other means.

Thanks for reading and, as Preet Bharara would say: Stay tuned!

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