The Trouble with Trial Time Limits

55 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2018

Date Written: July 15, 2018


Civil trial rates are at an all-time low. Meanwhile, “trial time limits” — judicially imposed limits on the time litigants have to present their evidence at trial — seem to be at an all-time high. We have fewer trials than ever, yet we’re taking aggressive steps to curtail the few that we’ve got. This Article zeroes in on this paradox. It excavates time limits’ origins, tracks their rise, examines their administration, and raises deep questions about their fairness and utility. Trial time limits have, so far, been variously ignored or, alternatively, lauded, as a way to promote juror comprehension and as a tool to make trials cheaper and more efficient. Indeed, one court has gone so far as to call these restrictions “essential” to sensible docket management. This Article challenges that conventional story and cautions against time limits’ regular or reflexive application. In so doing, this Article seeks to begin a broader inquiry into how the American civil trial of the twenty-first century is not only disappearing; the scattered trials that remain are also changing, in subtle and hard-to-quantify but profoundly important ways.

Keywords: civil trial, time limits, vanishing trial, trial process, fixed-length trials, timed trials, clock trials, procedural justice

Suggested Citation

Engstrom, Nora Freeman, The Trouble with Trial Time Limits (July 15, 2018). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 933, 2018, Stanford Public Law Working Paper, Available at SSRN:

Nora Freeman Engstrom (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
6507368891 (Phone)

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