Our professional labors for the judiciary can sometimes be overwhelming, as experienced during the public health emergency, bringing unprecedented challenges to our leadership and all our employees’ personal and professional lives. Over the past two years, many judiciary employees found themselves spinning, pivoting, or grasping for different ways to accomplish core functions and to ensure due process for those entering the halls of justice as our constitutions require us to do.
During these challenging times, the National Association for Court Management (NACM) and International Association for Court Administration (IACA) have assisted their members with pertinent information about how to respond to the public health emergency. This acknowledgment is not intended to exclude efforts by other court associations globally; the Federal Court Clerks Association; the Mid-Atlantic Association for Court Management (MAACM), which includes six states and Washington, D.C.; or the other 21 state associations that have developed organizations dedicated to employees’ growth in the various court systems across the United States.1
This has been an extraordinary time in all of our lives, and thankfully for those involved with NACM and IACA these two organizations continue to provide professional opportunities for personal growth and competence, leadership, and effective and efficient management strategies that will continue to be in the forefront of advancing continuing education.
Throughout the years, NACM and IACA have shared similar goals in promoting inspirational educational opportunities to advance the knowledge, talents, and proficiencies of their associations’ memberships—NACM on a national level and IACA on an international level. Both organizations endeavor to ensure that they are relevant by promoting educational opportunities that support professional development, systemic improvements in the court management profession, and succession planning of future generations of court employees. Both organizations provide, among other things, educational conferences with content filled with practical best practices, webinars, publications, and committee activity. Both organizations also provide their members with a rich forum to share valuable information to strengthen the professionalism of court managers and leaders.
The experience of association membership has demonstrated that the benefits of sharing ideas, listening and collaborating with others faced with the same challenges, and learning how others have dealt with those challenges are invaluable. Brainstorming solutions and developing strategies and partnerships can assist courts to work toward innovations. Experience has shown that in the state courts, the management of courts can be very complicated depending upon the structure, electoral process, rules, and statutes, as well as leadership of the courts. Thus, it is difficult to replicate exactly what works for one jurisdiction in another. However, even in unified courts, or the federal courts, the culture of one court can be vastly different than another.
Nevertheless, assembling court employees together with similar challenges to promote professional court management and the administration of justice while, at the same time, advocating for the rule of law has helped leadership progress with issues such as promoting fair and accessible justice, enhancing public perceptions of courts, improving caseflow management, increasing community collaboration, and, most importantly, cultivating accountability and transparency. IACA and NACM stand ready to assist any state, country, province or jurisdiction with establishing an association for their regions. Both organizations remain available to assist court leaders in building capacity to improve professional development not only to ultimately benefit court managers and leaders, but also to positively impact the people court institutions serve. The value of court association membership cannot be emphasized enough given the fact that courts are isolated institutions with no other institution with which to compare. Participation in association activities allows a group of associated individuals to share experiences and interests for the advancement of professionalism.
As described in IACA’s literature, “IACA is a global association of professionals who share a common interest in promoting improved administration and management in justice systems throughout the nations of the world. It is a non-profit association that promotes the administration of justice and the pursuit of excellence internationally through collaboratively working with justice system officials to develop the institutional framework and operational efficiency of courts.” Further, IACA’s mission is:
- to promote professional court administration and management in emerging democracies and other countries pursuing the rule of law;
- to sponsor international conferences, forums, and education and training programs on court administration and management; and
- to serve as a resource for judges, court administrators and managers, and other government officials in search of ways in which to evaluate and improve court and justice systems.
With the professional networks that are available through associations either nationally or internationally, court professionals can learn, network, attend conferences, or join committees that will help court managers, as well as leadership, with the profound responsibilities we have while working for judiciaries in the United States or across the globe.
Moving forward in this “new normal” following the pandemic, many courts are finding a perplexing backlog of cases; therefore, they must be cognizant of where they have been and how they need to adapt to progress effectively. Peter Drucker, one of the pillars of management theory, said, “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” This new era with which courts find themselves is changing exponentially with transforming speed. The world is changing rapidly around us, and we need to keep pace as we cannot afford to be stagnant. Our leadership in the courts must adapt and transform our environment to be meaningful.
This era of change is affecting all of us no matter where we live. On a larger scale, IACA and NACM predominantly deliver the opportunity for court managers to come together to learn, keep current on initiatives impacting judiciaries and those working in them, and seek insights to what the future is bringing. In 1862, in his address to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln stated:
We can succeed only by concert. It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.
We live in a world of constant change as can be gleaned from a 160-year-old passage from President Lincoln, yet many people struggle with change. The world has recently weathered adversity and despair over losses that some of us cannot even imagine. Our lives in one way or many will forever be changed. As we step into our future, we should embrace the “new normal” by effecting change. Indeed, for our courts to continue to be able to meet the needs of current times, it is essential that we are accountable and transparent. We must continually review what we are doing to see how our practices align with improving the administration of justice in order for our people to trust our institutions and the decisions that come from them.
That change will only come about by acting anew and employing strategic efforts in making our courts more efficient, timely, effective, and accessible. Gratefully, court association membership facilitates discussions and guides their members with tools to implement change. Membership and attendance at conferences sponsored by IACA and NACM can help with leading-edge topics associated with effectively managing courts. Neither organization is affiliated with any specific political ideology or persuasion, thereby, allowing free discourse at any organizational level. Members have a forum to discuss challenges, find solutions, and return to their workplace feeling energized and worthwhile.
IACA’s 2022 conference in Helsinki, Finland (October 17–20) was based on the theme People-Centered Justice in the New Normal. The conference agenda was replete with educational opportunities surrounding the new normal with which we find ourselves. The conference agenda information is available here: Conference Agenda.
Thank you for all that you do daily for the people you serve, leading and managing your courts in the most efficient manner, and for working diligently toward a better tomorrow. As Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer, is the chance to work hard, at work worth doing.” I know you will agree that administering justice in an honest, fair, and efficient manner is an extraordinary honor that is certainly worthwhile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamela Harris is Maryland state court administrator, chief executive officer of IACA, and past president of NACM.
- Alabama Municipal Court Clerks and Magistrate Association; Arizona Court Association; Arkansas Association of Court Management; California Court Association; Colorado Association for Municipal Court Administration; Georgia Council of Court Administrators; Kansas Association for Court Management and the Kansas Association of District Court Clerks and Administrators; Louisiana Court Administrators Association; MAACM, which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.; Michigan Association of Circuit Court Administrators and Court Administrators Association; Minnesota Association for Court Management; Mississippi Court Administrators Association; Missouri Association for Court Administration; Nevada Association for Court Career Advancement and Association of Court Executives; Ohio Association for Court Administration; Oregon Association for Court Administration; Pennsylvania Association of Court Management; Municipal Court Administration Association of South Carolina; Texas Association for Court Administration and the Rural Association for Court Administration and the Texas Court Clerks Association; Washington District and Municipal Court Management Association and the Association of Washington State Court Administrators; and Wisconsin Clerks of Circuit Courts.