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Innovative Legal Product Review

Bench Reporter Provides Attorneys With Instant Access to Thousands of Tentative Rulings in California (Along With Invaluable Insight Gleaned From Them)

Every once in a while a new product emerges on the legal scene which makes it almost impossible to believe that it’s just now making its way to the market. Such is the case with Bench Reporter (benchreporter.com), which made its debut last fall, and is already proving to provide invaluable insight to attorneys who are quickly realizing how much information can be gained by researching tentative rulings. So why was Bench Reporter created and how does it work to the benefit of attorneys?
In short, Bench Reporter is akin to a Google Search specifically for tentative rulings in California. Attorneys who subscribe to BenchReporter.com ($39/month, no subscription period required) simply log in, and perform an incredibly simple search. Searches can be conducted using single words or exact phrases (or combinations thereof ) and can be filtered by County, by Judge, or by tags such as Premises Liability, Sanctions, Attorney’s Fees, Anti-SLAPP, Statute of Limitations, or by dozens of others. The process is frankly so simple that even the most technologically averse attorneys in the world will find it easy to use. Unlike other online legal research services which require often arduous navigation, Bench Reporter provides access to thousands of tentative rulings in California with a single click, delivering results instantaneously. Anyone can search the database, but only subscribers can see beyond the first 40 words of each ruling.
But why would attorneys need a service like Bench Reporter? After all, this type of access has never been available before, and plenty of cases were fought and won without it. True as that may be, it is worth considering that just because lawyers have been fine without this access, doesn’t mean they won’t be better advocates for their clients by utilizing this inexpensive and impossibly simple research service. All the same, the creation of Bench Reporter is rooted in the history of tentative rulings in California, and thus bears a brief review.

Origins of Tentative Rulings in Southern California
According to benchreporter.com, “The Los Angeles County Superior Court invented tentative rulings in the 1960s. Originally, they made motion practice more efficient by allowing parties to avoid an appearance upon learning which way a court was leaning, assuming the indicated result was acceptable. Attorneys could call the court and listen to a looped recording of the next day’s tentative rulings. Now, many departments post tentative rulings via their local court website.
“The simplest of tentative rulings indicate nothing more than an intent to grant or deny. Thanks to hard-working judges, tentative rulings have evolved greatly over the past two decades.” Plenty of tentative rulings today go far beyond a simple ‘grant’ or ‘deny’ and are as thorough and well-written as published decisions from the California Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court. In fact, because the higher courts often focus on a narrow issue or two, tentative rulings from trial court judges frequently provide a more complete analysis of a given issue.”
In sum, Bench Reporter came about as the result of one firm’s realization of how much could be learned by reading tentative rulings. The firm began crudely archiving the rulings. A few years later, its database had grown to thousands of rulings. As others heard about the collection of rulings, the firm received requests for copies… and later, requests to build an easy-touse and searchable database. Finally, in November 2015, after pulling in a team of I.T. wizards and savvy web developers to make the site as easy to use as possible, BenchReporter.com went live. Each week, hundreds of tentative rulings are added to the database. To date, users can search more than 12,000 tentative rulings from Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Diego, and Santa Clara Counties.

Benefits of Tentative Rulings Research
As all attorneys are well aware, before ruling on a motion, judges in California often issue a tentative ruling, which indicates, based on the briefs already submitted, how and why the judge is inclined to rule. Regardless of whether or not the tentative ruling is adopted, it often vanishes. What may have been a meticulously crafted tentative ruling goes up in smoke, leaving nothing more than a final ruling pared down to its most basic elements, reading for example simply: “Motion granted, plaintiff shall have 20 days to amend the complaint.” By contrast, the tentative ruling may have contained pages and pages of discussion and analysis.
Obviously, additional insight into how a particular judge may be inclined to rule, based on past rulings, is an asset to any litigator. However, what is so groundbreaking about the launch of Bench Reporter is that although no effort is spared in selecting, studying, and trying to predict how a jury will respond, it is the judge who often has far more impact over a given case. Yet until now, there was no easy way for litigators to become familiar with a judge. Bench Reporter makes this possible, all the while offering additional benefits. By learning as much as possible about the judge assigned to the case, clients and insurance carriers are able to determine, within the limited amount of time available, if they ought to invoke a Peremptory Challenge. Similarly, attorneys can better predict the likelihood of having attorney’s fees awarded in specific types of cases, based on a particular judge’s past rulings on that issue.
This type of information can only enhance an attorney’s ability to prepare a more comprehensive analysis and report for clients or carriers, by illustrating how a judge has responded to similar motions in the past. Researching tentative rulings further allows attorneys to have a better understanding of specific cases the judge has found most persuasive in the past.
The list of benefits afforded to both plaintiff and defense counsel goes on and on. Attorneys find useful insight into a judge’s interpretation of ambiguous precedent. Some attorneys, to assist in their research, have even decided to obtain copies of moving papers used by others for similar motions in the past. And of course, through the reading of applicable tentative rulings, attorneys are offered a quick overview of issues they are not familiar with, and/or find help in drafting oppositions to motions they’ve never faced. Finally, through searching for relevant tentative rulings on benchreporter.com, issues for which there is not yet appellate authority may be better understood.
Indeed, attorneys throughout California who have begun utilizing Bench Reporter are finding they are able to provide stronger, better researched advocacy for their clients, despite the fact that this access has been largely unavailable until now. But when it comes down to a $39 monthly subscription, which adds yet another tool to a litigator’s arsenal, it doesn’t make sense not to use it. With no minimum subscription period required, and the potential to secure quicker victories for clients, the fact that Bench Reporter’s popularity is growing so quickly is no surprise.

"Bench Reporter is a great resource. It can be used to learn about your judge (from your judge). It can also be used as a research tool to quickly provide an overview of a new or unfamiliar issue. There is nothing else like Bench Reporter available."

Larry Treglia, Partner, Murtaugh Meyer Nelson & Treglia, Irvine "We signed up with Bench Reporter in 2015 after hearing about it from someone at the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel. It's been really useful!"

Wendy Wilcox, Partner, Skane Wilcox LLP, Los Angeles "Tentative rulings provide valuable guidance to the legal community and we're fortunate to practice before judges who issue such insightful tentatives. I have learned from tentative rulings for years. I'm thrilled they are now available in a searchable database."

–Aashish Desai, Desai Law Firm, P.C., Costa Mesa

Bench Reporter

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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