Are appellate court rulings helping most of the people in family law matters?

As Joshua Lenon, Go Clio’s lawyer-in-residence tweeted recently, 2/3 of California family law cases are filed by a self-represented litigant.

With that in mind, I wonder how many of the 1/3 who can afford representation at the trial level can also afford to file an appeal to their suits!

As a law student, I have learned that we only read appellate cases because they have written legal opinions.

As someone who has been a defendant in a multi-year family law dispute, I know the thousands of dollars it costs to being a defendant in trial. And that is just for trying a case at the lowest level without continual representation by a lawyer.

The majority of all civil litigation happens at the trial level, yet these rulings are minimally studied by law students. We focus on the reasoning made by the higher-level courts.

With this in mind, I’ve often wondered, how representative are the appellate level cases of the trial level suits? Is the issue being appealed a common one? Or is it a problem that only wealthy people face? (This is assuming that those 2/3rds of self-represented folks are not the one filing appeals, of course.)

As an academic, I’ve used the term “generalizability”. It’s a made-up term and certainly sounds impressive, right? A good definition is here, which is “the extension of research findings and conclusions from a study conducted on a sample population to the population at large”.

Simply stated- how relevant is your research to everyday people?

Now if we apply that concept to my questions from above… one could ask, “How generalizable are the corrections made by the appellate courts to the larger population who litigates family law cases at the trial level only and who most commonly litigates without the help of legal counsel?”

Let’s “plain language” that question…

How generalizable are the opinions of the appellate courts?

How generalizable are the opinions of the appellate courts?

Are appellate court rulings really helping most of the people who are suing over family law matters?

If an appellate court is a corrective court, then they are there to correct the mistakes made by the lower courts. My concern is not with this process (and I’m thankful for it!), but with the generalizability of the their correcting rulings and if they predominantly apply to issues that most people may face within the world of family law litigation.

Sara Kubik