SAN FRANCISCO — The number of commercial lawsuits filed in federal court has slowly declined since 2009 but Greenberg Traurig has cleaned up by representing both plaintiffs and defendants, according to a new report by legal analytics firm Lex Machina.
The Commercial Litigation Report, released Thursday, is the first by the Menlo Park, California, company to offer a data-driven overview of business-to-business cases involving breach of contract and other business torts. Lex Machina has previously released similar reports about intellectual property and securities litigation, among other practice areas.
The number of commercial cases filed in federal court has fallen steadily each year since 2009, when 7,809 commercial cases were filed, according to the report. Brian Howard, associate general counsel and legal data scientist at Lex Machina, attributed the trend in part to business litigation reaching a high point around the 2009 economic crisis.
By last year, the number of cases filed dropped to 5,696. The busiest district in terms of commercial filings from 2009 through the second quarter of 2017 was the Central District of California, with 4,257 cases, followed by the Southern District of New York, with 3,855.
Greenberg Traurig was involved in the most cases of any law firm, regardless of whether it represented plaintiffs or defendants. It logged 333 cases on the plaintiff side and 401 for defendants. Howard said the figures underscore that in commercial litigation—unlike other practice areas—there is little distinction between the plaintiff and defendant bars.
Rather than representing one or two very litigious clients, the volume of filings by Greenberg Traurig was attributable to having a broad array of clients with a handful of cases each, according to Howard. Those clients included LG Electronics, JPMorgan Chase Bank, and Sears Holding Co., he said.
The runner-up in terms of plaintiff cases filed was the firm Doniger Burroughs, which represents a number of textile pattern companies that are litigating copyright cases involving commercial claims. DLA Piper held the second-tier spot in terms of commercial cases representing defendants.
Howard said he was struck by how much money was awarded over the period to plaintiffs in cases where the other party simply didn’t show up. Of the $7.8 billion in damages awarded, nearly half, or $3.5 billion, were default judgments.
The damages figures do not capture settlements or state court cases.
“The fact that it happens I don’t think is surprising. But the fact that it’s that much money I think is,” Howard said.
The company raking in the most in damages between 2009 and the second quarter of 2017 was Michigan-based Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., which won $843.9 million in two cases—one of which was a default judgment. Both cases involved claims that solar panel manufacturing customers breached supply contracts to purchase polycrystalline silicon from Hemlock.
The report also offers insight on how long cases took to terminate, which it calls “one of the best uses” of legal data analytics for both strategic and budgeting reasons. The median time to summary judgment during the time period was 531 days.