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Litigation involves human beings, who are likely to be motivated to pursue their interests as they understand them. Empirical civil procedure researchers must take this fact seriously if we are to adequately characterize the effects of policy changes. To make this point concrete, I first step outside the realm of civil procedure and illustrate the importance of accounting for human agency in empirical research. I use the canonical problem of demand estimation in economics to show how what I call the “urn approach” to empirical work fails to uncover important empirical relationships by disregarding behavioral aspects of human action. I then show how these concerns permeate a prominent empirical issue in contemporary civil procedure debates: the changes in pleading policy wrought by Bell Atlantic, Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Revisiting my own earlier work, I embed the question of how changes in the pleading standard will affect case outcomes in a broad behavioral framework that takes parties’ agency seriously. In the process, I address recent critiques, both of the very idea of using behavioral frameworks to understand civil litigation policy changes, and of certain aspects of my use of real-world litigation data collected by the Federal Judicial Center. As I show, these criticisms are straightforwardly refuted on the merits. The alternative to taking seriously the behavioral context created by the civil justice system — what has occurred so far in too much of the debate over Twombly and Iqbal — is, as one critic of early 20th-century empirical research by legal scholars once put it, “a mindless amassing of statistics without reference to any guiding theory whatsoever.” To do better, we will need to take behavior seriously in studying civil litigation.


Civil Procedure, Empirical Legal Studies, Law and Economics, Pleading Standard, Twombly, Iqbal

Publication Title

Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation

Publication Citation

2 Stan. J. Complex Litig. 223 (2014)