With lower courts having few attorneys and even fewer trials, should their activities be labeled as hearings instead of trials?
I agree. Changing the jurisdiction of the lower courts seems like it would do more harm than good. If you are implying that the lower courts have no purpose, I would disagree. Courts have been under budget cuts lately, but the lower courts need more resources, not less.
The terms "trial" and "hearing" have legal ramifications beyond mere labeling. If we were to change the jurisdiction of the lower courts so as to have more or less authority, then perhaps renaming the proceedings or the courts themselves would be necessary. Beyond that, I don't see what the purpose would be, or what good it would do for the public or the interests of justice.
There would be no point in renaming these proceedings. They would be the same procedures by whatever name.
In terms of "truth in labelling" it might make sense to rename them. A trial is really just one kind of a hearing. The word "trial" is generally used to refer to a longer, more formal and more elaborate hearing. This means that it would probably be more accurate to call the proceedings "hearings" but it would not really make any substantive difference.
Whether or not a proceeding involves attorneys or the number of proceedings held are not factors in what legal proceedings are labeled. Legal proceedings are labeled as trials and hearings for reasons that have to do with subject matter jurisdiction, appellate levels, and rules that govern the proceedings.
In Pennsylvania, which is probably typical of most states, magistrates hold hearings, which cover various criminal and civil matters, but which exclude other kinds of matters. If the amount of money at issue is over a certain amount, for example, a magistrate cannot hear the matter, and it will go to trial.
Matters a magistrate can rule on may be appealed to another level, and to still another level, which is a trial level. Agencies typically hold hearings, not trials, and there are levels of appeal for those, too.
The rules governing hearings and trials are quite different, as well. Hearings typically do not have rules of evidence that are as rigid. Various documents, for example, might be admitted at hearing that are not admitted at trial. Some hearing require a transcript, while others do not, but all trials must have a transcript. The kinds of motions one might make at a hearing are often different from the kinds of motions one can make at various kinds of hearings.
So, that is a long answer to a short question, but our legal system is quite complex. Changing what we call a legal proceeding would be a change that made no difference at all unless the entire system would be overhauled.
I am sure that each state has some differences, but the general principles I have described apply to all.