Suggestions to Rebuild Public Trust and Confidence in the Courts
Our courts are suffering from a severe lack of public confidence. In a recent piece for the ABA Journal, ABA President-elect Judy Perry Martinez suggests that the causes are twofold. First, our courts are not working overly well for anyone. Legal providers are not meeting the needs of a significant portion of Americans, and even those who can afford litigation are shying away due to the associated delays, inefficiencies, and costs. Second, many in the legal profession hesitate to recognize or highlight any of the problems plaguing our justice system, which then lets the problems worsen. To begin rebuilding public trust and confidence in our courts, Martinez has a few suggestions.
First, everyone—from lawyers and politicians to media outlets and laypersons—needs to be more mindful about how they talk about the judiciary. Martinez calls specifically on lawyers to lead by example and set the tone for their clients and the public for these conversations.
“The cumulative damage to our justice institutions resulting from judge-bashing, even if only shared in a whisper to a client by a lawyer, cannot be measured by simply totaling these individual acts of criticism. Collectively, those acts blend and combine over time to undermine the public’s confidence in our justice system.”
On the other hand, lawyers and judges have work to do in restoring the judiciary’s place and reputation as “the people’s courts.” Some ways to do this include treating everyone in a court room with respect and dignity; judges explaining rulings to litigants to establish a sense of credibility and accountability; and lawyers educating their clients about the rule of law and how the court processes work to uphold it. Martinez also calls on judges and lawyers to lead their communities outside the courthouse, too. She praises those who serve in various bar associations, volunteer in soup kitchens, and go out into their communities to speak and listen to their neighbors. Each of these suggestions can make the judicial system a little more accessible to the average citizen.
Finally, Martinez argues that we have to start getting creative about how we serve legal needs. The legal community has to better understand the public’s expectations for legal services and shift attention from what we have done in the past to what makes sense to do now. The justice system has to embrace technology and collaboration amongst those inside and outside of the legal field. It is time to dust the cobwebs off the parts of our court system that aren’t working and replace them with more functional building blocks. Doing so will go a long way towards rebuilding public trust and confidence in the courts.