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More than a few people noticed that the American court system was seeing ever fewer trials before Marc Galanter named the phenomenon.' But until Galanter mobilized lawyers2 and scholars to look systematically at the issue, inquiry was both piecemeal and sparse. Over the past three years, in contrast, Galanter's research 3 and his idea entrepreneurship, crystallized in the "Vanishing Trial" label, has spawned if not a huge literature at least a substantial one. We have now gotten the benefit of sustained scholarly inquiry by researchers of many stripes. Their work has been largely, though not entirely, empirical, and so we have gained a good deal of positive knowledge. This brief essay first summarizes some of that knowledge-in particular, the chief features we know about the shrinking civil trial docket in federal district courts. Next, it proposes four areas of future investigation necessary to understand the contours of the trend and to assess its causes. Then, I bring together the causal hypotheses that have already been proposed, none of which has yet been securely tested. Finally, in an appended bibliography, I list data sources, reports, and scholarly analyses that will be useful to those doing future work.


Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty.