CHICAGO — Attorney Kirk Jenkins has developed a specialty in the
fast-growing field of legal analytics, advising clients of his firm
about their chances of winning at the appellate level.
Jenkins has spent many years of his legal career in Illinois, but
he has a great interest in California's legal system, having
practiced in San Francisco for 10 years.
Chair of the Appellate Task Force at the law firm of Sedgwick
since 2014, Jenkins leads the legal-analytics group of eight
attorneys in four offices.
“Our attorneys often work with trial teams, managing the
client’s appellate strategy, protecting the record, briefing and
arguing critical motions and positioning the client’s presentation
to maximum advantage in what is often a fast-changing legal
landscape,” he told the Northern California Record.
Jenkins has many examples of how analytics affect conventional
“You hear a lot of people say, well, you can’t really tell
much from oral argument about what’s going to happen,” he said.
“Both the academic research that preceded us and our research have
demonstrated you can predict the ultimate result with a fairly high
probability level based on closely observing the oral argument. We
proved that the party receiving the most questions is overwhelmingly
likely to lose. The margin gets bigger and bigger between the number
of questions you get and your opponent.”
Jenkins said legal analytics is a growing field.
“It’s really ultimately about teaching lawyers the risks in
litigation in the way that a business person thinks about it,” he
said. “The legal profession is kind of a latecomer to this
The academic world, Jenkins said, has been doing analytics for
“There’s enormous amounts of academic literature out there
about applying analytics to the initial decision making. It didn’t
really penetrate into the bar, I would say, until 2013,” he said.
Illinois and California are where his firm does a lot of appellate
“The goal in both these courts is to better understand how each
of these courts makes decisions so as to be in a better position to
predict what they’re going to do going forward and to see insights
about how better to persuade the court, to understand their voting
patterns, to understand who the most likely targets for persuasion
are and to better understand how to win cases,” he said.
Oddly enough, if Jenkins does his job right, he eliminates
appellate work for himself.
“The best position is to get the case in a position where the
opponent never brings the appeal to begin with,” he said.
Jenkins spent 1994 to 2004 in Sedgwick's San Francisco office, and
still has close ties to the area.
“The majority of my practice, from one day to the next, is in
California and the western states, so it’s more of a focus than
Illinois is, most days,” he said.
There are many differences between appellate practice in
California and Illinois, as he has noted in writings about, and
analysis of, trends.
For example, Jenkins said the Illinois Supreme Court accepts
relatively few amicus briefs, whereas California's high court has a
“The California Supreme Court accepts large numbers of amicus
briefs. They average three to four each and every day, and in that
sense they are similar to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said. “The
caseload in California is more tuned towards administrative type
deals. They write more opinions than Illinois does. They write more
concurring than dissenting opinions in California than there are in
Illinois. Opinions are significantly longer in California — they
can be as much as double the length.”
Illinois works more slowly, too, he said. The Illinois Supreme
Court doesn’t have time limits on how quickly it assigns moral
argument or how quickly it decides a case after oral argument. In
California, the court is required to hand down a decision — with a
rare exception — within 90 days of hearing oral argument.
“Before the case is ever argued, both the California Supreme
Court and court of appeals are a long way down the road towards
deciding it, because the clock is so short. Largely, because of the
death-penalty docket, California is slower across the board,” he