In legal circles, the phenomenon is so widespread that it actually has a name: the vanishing trial.
Over recent decades, the number of courtroom trials has dropped dramatically in both federal and state courts, according to numerous national studies. Because of the high cost of going to trial, fear of unpredictable jury verdicts, and other factors, many cases instead are being resolved through settlements, mediation, and arbitration, which litigants often prefer to the emotional ordeal of going to court.
But the disappearing trial has created a troubling ripple effect for the legal profession: rapidly dwindling opportunities for lawyers to hone their litigation skills, resulting in a generation of young attorneys who have rarely -- if ever -- stepped foot in a courtroom.
The Boston Bar Association has taken a small step to remedy that problem. Earlier this month, it expanded its "lawyer-for-the-day" program at Boston Housing Court, in which attorneys give free legal advice to tenants and landlords, to include having lawyers try cases in court. The change is designed not only to help low-income litigants, but also to let trial-starved lawyers connect with a jury, relate to a judge, and develop other trial skills mastered only through real-life practice.