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There are many definitions of what is casually called in commercial law the "big case." Those definitions tend to describe the more memorable features of such a case rather than its inherent nature. Thus a case is said to be a "big case" when it involves many issues, many defendants, hundreds of exhibits, thousands of pages of testimony, months of hearings, and millions of dollars. It has also been said by judicial commentators that one may recognize the "big case" because it creates an acute crisis in the current administration of justice. This crisis is the result of three principal vices associated with complex litigation: (1) unnecessary consumption of time and energy, (2) delay in disposition of disputes, and (3) enormous and wasteful expenditures of money. For the practitioner, there is perhaps a rather more simple test for recognition of the big case. If a judge to whom that case has been assigned begins to show unmistakable signs of hostility towards counsel, although he had previously been uniformly courteous and pleasant, it may be because a truly complex case has been brought into his life. He will have noticed that the conditions surrounding this case have created confusion, magnified uncertainties, multiplied the possibilities or error, and otherwise tended to make less certain the court's own rulings. This situation is obviously aggravated by the presence of a jury but the foregoing symptoms will also exist in instances where such cases are tried to the court.


A speech presented to the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the Kentucky Bar Association on June 24, 1976, and October 22, 1976.

Armistead W. Gilliam Jr., Partner, Smith & Schnacke, Dayton, Ohio. B.A., University of Virginia, 1952; J.D., George Washington University, 1957. Member, District of Columbia Bar Association, Federal Bar Association.

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