Last August at NACM’s annual conference in Atlanta, then President Vicky Carlson delivered the association’s inaugural State of the Profession Address. If you missed it or would like to listen to it again, it is available on the NACM YouTube channel. Her speech highlighted several important topics, including the notion that NACM has a key role in the field of court administration as an influential and respected leader.
As stated in NACM’s Strategic Plan:
NACM will be an influential and respected voice on behalf of courts and the court management profession.
- Pursue and participate in opportunities to educate about, and promote, the profession.
- Reach out to policy-makers to educate about the needs and important issues facing courts and the profession.
- Take a position and make recommendations on matters of importance.
- Develop advocacy resources and reference materials.
- Use innovative methods for acting on behalf of the profession.
- Educate and enhance relationships and communication with judges, judge organizations, and judicial/legal communities.
- Highlight contributions to improved court/judicial branch performance
Why NACM’s “voice” should matter comes from its unique position within the court profession. It is the largest organization in the United States concerned with the judicial system, with over 1,800 members who hold positions from clerk to judge in every type of jurisdiction. As such, NACM is well poised to have an informed and influential position on items of note to the courts.
The need to speak on matters of importance to the court system is perhaps greater now more than ever. For example, in the wake of incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore, the public questioned the fairness of the system, and the system responded with the Joint Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices. A movement toward release of defendants based not on their ability to pay bail, but rather on their risk of flight and reoffending, has taken a strong hold around the country. Has the public noticed though? That is an important question because of the system’s primary need to remain legitimate in the eyes of the public. When the system responds appropriately and effectively to current issues, NACM can use its voice to help get that information to the public.
The voice of an organization is the collection of ways the organization communicates. These include one-on-one conversations of members; information provided at conferences, trainings, and webinars; websites; publications; resolutions; social media; and by state of the profession/industry addresses. Like an individual, the organization can speak alone or with others. The chance to, from time-to-time, join voices with other related organizations can amplify the message.
What would compose the message relayed by the voice of NACM? The association’s leadership decided the first step is to listen to the membership. Toward that end, a survey was released at the time Ms. Carlson gave the State of the Profession Address. Two main questions were asked of the membership. On various trends and issues currently important in the field of court administration, should NACM offer its collective view on these issues? Second, if the members agree that NACM should offer its view, then what should NACM be saying?
A total of 249 people responded to the survey; nearly two thirds (62.5 percent) had 16 or more years of experience working for the courts/judicial branch. About a third of the respondents (35.3 percent) have been members of court associations for 16 or more years. The respondents represented state courts (42.9 percent), county courts (21.5 percent), and city courts (17.0 percent). Only 7 respondents (2.8 percent) reported working for the federal courts. The size of the courts for those responding was fairly well distributed: 23.1 percent with 3 or fewer judges; 21.9 percent with 4 to 10 judges; and 47.3 percent with 11 or more. The types of cases handled by the courts respondents worked for ran the gamut of case types (i.e., family, criminal, civil, and so on). The vast majority of respondents were from the United States, with only 6 respondents from a foreign country. Judges are elected in 40.1 percent of the respondents’ jurisdictions, with an additional 28.3 percent of the respondents reporting that they have a combination of elected and appointed judges.
The answer to what topics/issues are of importance to NACM’s membership comes from the following question.
|National Association for Court Management NACM Voice of the Profession Survey—2018|
|For each of the issues/trends below, please rate your level of agreement on whether NACM should advocate for these issues/trends on behalf of courts.|
|Strongly agree||Agree||Neither agree nor disagree||Disagree||Strongly disagree||Total||Weighted average|
|Public confidence in the courts||60.32%||149||34.82%||86||4.45%||11||0.40%||1||0.00%||0||247||4.55|
|Use of technology in the courts||56.45%||140||37.90%||94||4.44%||11||0.81%||2||0.40%||1||248||4.49|
|Budget pressures on the courts||56.85%||141||31.85%||79||7.66%||19||3.23%||8||0.40%||1||248||4.42|
|Problem solving courts||34.27%||85||42.74%||106||20.16%||50||2.02%||5||0.81%||2||248||4.08|
|Generational shift of court customers||22.45%||55||46.94%||115||27.76%||68||2.45%||6||0.41%||1||245||3.89|
|The effect of social media||23.98%||59||42.68%||105||29.27%||72||3.25%||8||0.81%||2||246||3.86|
|Generational shift of employees||20.56%||51||47.18%||117||28.63%||71||2.82%||7||0.81%||2||248||3.84|
|The opioid epidemic||21.46%||53||36.03%||89||36.44%||90||4.86%||12||1.21%||3||247||3.72|
|Fines and fees||26.02%||64||32.93%||81||27.24%||67||10.98%||27||2.85%||7||246||3.68|
The preceding table ranks by weighted average the respondents’ agreement that NACM should advocate on behalf of courts on the listed issues. All but the bottom three issues had over two thirds of the respondents in agreement or strong agreement that NACM should do so. This level of agreement among the respondents would suggest that the simple answer to the main question is “yes, NACM should exercise its voice on issues of importance to the court community.”
Respondents were given the opportunity to add additional topics/issues that they feel NACM should weigh in on. Of the 249 respondents, approximately 55 provided some additional topics/issues. Some of the common items they brought up were:
- intra-branch relations especially as they affect budgets, human resources (recruitment and salaries), and facilities;
- criminal justice reform (beyond fines and fees, and monetary bail, which were listed items on the survey) relating to self-represented litigants, affordability, and underfunded public defenders;
- fairness and race equity; and
- technology, noting specifically research on the applicability of IT in the courts, the need for universal standards, and the use of artificial intelligence.
Finally, respondents were given the opportunity to provide their thoughts on what NACM should be saying on issues they agreed warrant attention. About half of the respondents (about 120 of the 249 surveys) provided their thoughts. The more common of those offered were:
- create position papers, policy statements, suggested standards, and resolutions;
- conduct or highlight research on the topics;
- collect best practices, success stories, and lessons learned;
- provide public information/education materials and events;
- conduct or join in national forums; and
- provide information/education to the other branches of government.
The intention of the association is to institutionalize the Voice of the Profession (VOP) survey. To this end the survey will be reissued this coming July immediately following this year’s State of the Profession Address. To provide information on the relative importance of the issues to members over time, no topics/issues from the first survey will be removed, but a couple of the additional topics noted above may be added.
This year the association is taking the number-one identified issue from the survey, “public confidence in the courts,” and strategizing on how to highlight and address the issue. A first step in exercising NACM’s voice was the creation of a resolution on the subject (available on the NACM resolution page). Conversation has begun on what other steps the association might take. The Governance Committee would welcome your thoughts and ideas on what NACM should do and say regarding public confidence in the courts. Please forward your comments and suggestions to Greg Lambard (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rick Pierce (email@example.com).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Lambard, chief probation officer of Burlington County, is a 28-year employee with the New Jersey State Courts. He currently serves as a director on the NACM Board and as vice-president of the Mid-Atlantic Association for Court Management.