For appellate lawyers, reversal rates in U.S. courts of appeals

This post isn’t about legal writing, but those of you who are appellate lawyers may find it useful.

Earlier today I was asked the reversal rates for the U.S. Fifth Circuit. Those numbers, and many others for all the U.S. courts of appeal, are on web site of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, on the statistics page (which you can reach by clicking the “Statistics” tab on the home page). Once you’re on the statistics page, scroll down and look in the left-hand column for “Statistical Tables for the Federal Judiciary,” and click on the time period you’re most interested in (probably the most recent, but for a more accurate study you’ll want to look at a range of dates). When you click on a time period, you’ll be presented with a screen full of links to various tables. Look for “Table B-5, Appeals Terminated on the Merits, by Circuit.” Click there, and you’ll download a tidy PDF file like this one dated December 2009.

By the way, the most recent reversal rate in the U.S. 5th Circuit for “other private civil” (my usual practice area) was 15.4%.

Looking it up

When construing a statute, lawyers and judges often resort to dictionaries to show the “plain meaning” of the text. But with a multitude of dictionaries to choose from, which one should you use? In this article, Kurt X. Metzmeier recommends a scientific approach to that choice:

First, a researcher should consult several of the respected unabridged dictionaries. Second, the dictionary selected should be relatively contemporaneous with the text interpreted. Third, when a term of art for a particular trade, profession or industry is under analysis, an advocate should also consult specialized dictionaries. Finally, when citing a dictionary definition, an attorney must be prepared to defend the chosen source, just as he or she would for any other secondary source.

Kurt X. Metzmeier, You Can Look it Up: The Use of Dictionaries in Interpreting Statutes, Louisville Bar Briefs, pp. 14-15, July 2007. Available at SSRN: