University of Denver

Redefining Case Management

Today, judges, courts, and attorneys alike recognize that case management is an essential element in moving a case fairly, efficiently, and economically through the process. In fact, case management has become an important tool in combatting the problems of excessive cost and delay in civil litigation and ensuring access for all litigants. In the face of an evolving civil justice landscape, with new challenges and opportunities, case management—tailored to the needs of the case and for the ultimate benefit of the users of our system—is more important than ever.

Senior Director
Director, Special Projects
Legal Assistant

Objectives:

  • To heighten awareness of case management, beyond those who are already steeped in these issues—to include a broader group of judges, court administrators, lawyers, and users of the system.
  • To redefine our view of case management to recognize the essential role that case management must play in achieving an accessible, fair, and just system for all.  

Case management is part of every civil justice reform proposal afoot in the nation. It is mentioned at every conference and in every set of recommendations. Attorneys want a judge in charge of their case, from beginning to end: a judge who is knowledgeable, accessible, and engaged.

But, here's the rub. The literature and experience on the ground all pointed to the importance of case management decades ago, yet it is still not the norm.

One of the reasons for this may be resistance on the part of some judges or courts to managing cases. This, however, is becoming more the exception than the rule. In reality, there are many other reasons that these best practices have not taken hold. For example, many judges around the country are faced with docket pressures that often make this demand for early, active judicial management in every case challenging, particularly at the state level. Further, in rapidly growing numbers, litigants in our system are navigating the process without attorneys, leading to new demands on the system—from the judges and the courts—in terms of case management. 

How can we change the culture, pierce through the resistance, and put case management into practice everywhere? We at IAALS thought about trying to change the words used: is it just a problem of converting Brad’s Drink into Pepsi-Cola, or Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation into Sony? Or is it an operational problem? Do we need to invent a different pour spout like Heinz did with ketchup? Or put wheels on suitcases? 

In the end, we came back to a simple reality. Case management works—both in name and in practice. It works for judges and the court, because time invested on the front end of a case actually saves time throughout the case. It works for the litigants, because someone is actually in charge of driving the case to resolution—someone impartial and trustworthy. In fact, it is a key component in procedural fairness. And it works for the lawyers, because it keeps noncompliant lawyers on track and it forces even the best-intentioned lawyers to keep to a firm schedule and to minimize inefficiencies. 

We also recognize that case management needs to be broadened, re-envisioned, and ultimately redefined for our rapidly evolving legal system. It needs to be refocused on the end user of our system.

IAALS formerly housed this work under its Rule One Initiative until 2018.

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Examples of case case management reform efforts around the country:

To explore the full map of civil justice reforms around the country, click here.