Redefining Case Management: A State Judge Perspective
IAALS’ recent report, Redefining Case Management, is an important update on the work being done in civil justice innovation and is a critical read for all. The report succinctly summarizes new insights that have been brought to the world of case management from the work of the Conference of Chief Justice’s Civil Justice Improvements (CJI) Committee and other civil justice reform efforts—along with charting the path that got us here. It also highlights the changing legal landscape for our courts and our entire legal system. In these days of rapid evolution, public trust and confidence is dependent on a court system that takes advantage of modern technology and takes ownership of the responsibility of moving cases fairly, justly, and cost-effectively through to resolution.
The case management approach described in Redefining Case Management works. My circuit in Miami, Florida, was selected as one of the four pilot projects under the Civil Justice Initiative Implementation Project, a three-year project of IAALS and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), funded by the State Justice Institute, focused on implementing the 13 recommendations in the CJI Committee’s report, Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice For All. Those recommendations, and the Redefining Case Management publication, highlight a teamwork approach to case management. I was able to put these concepts into practice as part of the pilot project.
Working in partnership with the NCSC, we tested the team case management model with the differentiated pathway approach. In the pilot, four divisions of our civil court, run by four different judges and their staffs, piloted a “case management from inception” approach. Nearly 7,000 cases were in the pilot. Another 15 divisions of the circuit court, which continued in the traditional manner, served as the control group. Results at one year show a 20% reduction in caseload and cases closing four months earlier than the control group. The judges involved report more time to attend to cases individually and reduced stress of juggling workloads. These results were achieved despite a series of challenges typical for any court system: one judge left mid-project resulting in a temporary coverage by another judge in the division for three months, one case manager position was vacant for two months after the case manager was “poached” by another jurisdiction, a hiring freeze was in place, another staff member left for family leave and a temp filled in, and (of course, this being Florida) Hurricane Irma happened.
Much has been learned from the pilot that will be shared in the end report, but the important message is this: redefined case management works. There has been enough of judges blaming warring lawyers and lawyers blaming inattentive or overworked judges; together, we must use the architectural work summarized here to build a better court system. Courts must look at the value being delivered to the end user—the people and institutions that bring their problems to court. A fundamental reevaluation of our business practices is critical.
This IAALS report takes a hard look at what we are doing that is contributing to the problems of cost and delay, and begins the discussion of how we change.