The United States legal system is immensely complex. There are state courts and federal courts, state statutes and federal statutes, state common law and federal common law. When I imagine a foreign lawyer trying to explain this system to a foreign client, my heart fills with pity.
This feeling of pity is compounded when I imagine this same lawyer trying to advise her client as to whether a choice-of-court clause will be enforced by a court in the United States. The law on this subject is complicated. It is, moreover, not easy to determine how it is applied in practice. Are there differences in clause enforcement rates across the states? Across federal circuits? Do state courts enforce these clauses at the same rate as federal courts? Until recently, there was no data that would allow a foreign lawyer – or a U.S. lawyer, for that matter – to answer any of these questions.
Over the past several years, I have authored or co-authored several empirical articles that seek to answer the questions posed above. This post provides a summary of the data gathered for these articles. All of the cases referenced involve outbound choice-of-court clauses, i.e. clauses that select a jurisdiction other than the one where the suit was filed. Readers interested in the data collection process, the caveats to which the data is subject, or other methodological issues should consult the articles and their appendices. This post first describes state court practice. It then describes federal court practice. It concludes with a brief discussion comparing the two.