Whither Bespoke Procedure?

Increasingly we hear that civil procedure lurks in the shadow of private law. Scholars suggest that the civil rules are mere defaults, applying if the parties fail to contract around them. When judges confront terms modifying court procedures—a trend said to be explosive—they seem all-too-willing to surrender to the inevitable logic of private and efficient private ordering. How concerned should we be? This Article casts a wide net to find examples of private contracts governing procedure, and finds a decided absence of evidence. It explores a large database of agreements entered into by public firms and a hand-coded set of credit card contracts. In both databases, clauses that craft private procedural rules are rare. This is a surprising finding given recent claims about the prevalence of these clauses and the economic logic which makes them so compelling. A developing literature about contract innovation helps to explain this puzzle. Parties are not rationally ignorant of the possibility of privatized procedure, nor are they simply afraid that such terms are unenforceable. Rather, evolution in the market for private procedure, like innovation in contracting generally, is subject to a familiar cycle of product innovation. Further developments in this field will not be linear, uniform, and progressive; they will be punctuated, particularized, and contingent.

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