In 2016, IAALS is ten years old. In dog years, seventy. In the world of start-ups, ten years marks a watershed; eighty percent of start-ups have already failed by now. To the contrary, today IAALS is thriving.
We are so proud of what we have accomplished, together with your help. Whether you have been on this journey with us since the beginning, or are just finding us for the first time, allow us to demonstrate what we have done with those years and why the world is a better place because we exist.
IAALS is a place of aspiration and innovation. We identify problem areas in our legal system where we believe we can make a difference. We do the research, convene the experts, design solutions, and implement them. And, the results have been nothing short of amazing.
Support for our 10th anniversary celebration is generously provided by the Sturm Family Foundation.
In the last ten years, we have achieved real successes in implementing changes designed to improve the civil justice process, particularly in regards to efficiency and cost. No small feat.
Together with our partners and experts, we spearheaded a civil justice reform movement that today sweeps across federal and state courts. We have been involved in doing intensive research, implementing and measuring significant pilot projects and rule changes, and developing recommendations for rules and case management improvements. We have worked across the nation in dozens of states and in both the federal and state systems. That essential groundwork has put the country on the road to profound permanent changes that demand a proportional, effective, and well-managed process for every case. Such change was unimaginable just five years ago.
But it is only the beginning of true reform.
In February 2016, we will bring together our partners to chart the course for implementation of these changes. It is, of course, not enough to pass new rules—the next step is to assure that they actually be applied in every court, in every case, and for every litigant. We must change the culture in order to change the system.
Our civil courts do not just deal with torts, contracts, and property cases. They also deal with family cases. In fact, more than one half of cases in state civil courts are family cases of one type or another. We have jumped into that fray to try to assure that the family court process works better for people as well. After all, it is the place where most Americans come into contact with the courts—and at a very vulnerable time in their lives, and their children’s lives.
In this area, we are cutting a wide swath as well. We are building a movement of family court judges and lawyers who believe the time has come for broad and deep change.
We helped in the development of an Informal Domestic Relations Procedures, which gives people access to an easily navigable simplified divorce or separation process. It is being implemented in Oregon and Alaska. And, it is efficient and fast.
We also developed and launched a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary model for separating and divorcing families which has given families in the Denver-metro area access to an out-of-court environment that provides them with therapeutic services, financial and legal information, and mediation, and that prioritizes their children. This new model can revolutionize the way divorce or separation is handled in the United States, and will be replicated nationwide.
We have also committed ourselves to listening to the large and growing number of self-represented litigants who navigate our courts without an attorney, so that their voices can be heard. Their perspectives on the successes and pitfalls of the family court process will be extremely important as we propose solutions.
The system is only as good as the judges who preside over it. So, we have engaged in the field of judicial selection, retention, and evaluation as well. We have developed a recommended model of judicial selection, which values both accountability and impartiality. Within that model, we led the country in our focus on the judicial performance evaluation (JPE) programs that provide voters with accurate and apolitical information about the judges on their ballot.
Together with our working group of JPE program coordinators in 15 states, we have achieved the following:
- Colorado, New Hampshire, and Utah have all revised their JPE programs based on IAALS’ reports and recommendations.
- IAALS’ work supported additional funding for the New Mexico JPE program, and the North Carolina Bar Association used our model on a pilot basis in 2008 and 2009, and has now established a permanent program.
- Three states—Utah, North Carolina, and Alaska—developed “Know Your Judge” Public Service Announcements and related materials based on the 2010 “Know Your Judge” project in Colorado, in which IAALS was a partner.
- Missouri adopted our proposed plan for the evaluation of appellate judges in 2014, and reported an improved and fairer process.
We are led in this area of our work by former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and joined by an all-star group including a former Governor, U.S. Senator, two State Chief Justices, General Counsel of a major corporation, American Bar Association President, and League of Women Voters’ President.
Lastly, we know that any change has to be supported by efforts aimed at the next generation of legal professionals—through law schools. New lawyers are facing increasing challenges in the profession, and we are at the forefront of efforts to improve the way that legal education functions so that graduates are better prepared to meet those challenges.
We work with a consortium of 33 law schools across the nation and have created a platform for those schools and educators to collaborate in innovating. We have succeeded in elevating the conversation beyond individual school self-interest, to fundamental questions that focus on what is needed to prepare lawyers to serve clients.
We study innovative curricula and share the results so that others might learn and adopt. We have empowered prospective law students by giving them access to transparent information about how law school graduates fared in the employment market.
And, following a national study, we are equipping the most innovative law schools in the country with specific information about the kinds of skills, competencies, and characteristics that legal employers require of new graduates. Our next steps will be to take that information to the law schools and challenge them to amend their curricula to emphasize these foundational requirements.
We have a strong base here at IAALS. We have a Law Firm Council consisting of firms who support our efforts. We have a Business Leadership Network, and a variety of task forces and Advisory Committees. We have a national and diverse Board of Advisors. We are known for competence, thoroughness, impartiality, and innovation.
We make things happen.
We act, while others talk.
Upon that foundation, in the next five years, we intend to build the contours of a new system. A system that is service-oriented, responsive, efficient, and ready to serve.
- We will shepherd the adoption of new rules, and new techniques for managing cases.
- We will remain vigilant to the need for judicial impartiality and accountability.
- We will change family courts to put families and children first.
- And we will change legal education to meet the needs of an evolving profession.
Ours is daunting work. But, we are resolute, committed, and buoyed by our successes to date.