University of Denver

The Top 10 Legal Culture Shifts Needed to Create the Courts of Tomorrow

Founding Executive Director

For the last ten years, IAALS—the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System—has worked to rebuild the civil justice system. After much work, and through collaboration with some of the very best minds in the country, we are finally reaching a critical goalpost in that mission. Significant federal rule changes going into effect on December 1 will begin to shake the foundation of law practice as we know it; the rules aim to reduce cost and delay for everyone who needs our courts, reign in discovery into a more proportional and cooperative process, and increase judges’ roles in keeping control from start to finish.

But, the rules have changed many times before, with minimal impact. What makes this round any different?

The difference will come from culture change. The difference will come from reinventing how we practice law as lawyers and judges, to the benefit of clients, courts, and the overall profession.

We at IAALS are proud to be a driver of this change, and put forth The Top 10 Cultural Shifts Needed to Create the Courts of Tomorrow, encompassing the most vital changes needed in our civil justice system, as outlined in our latest article, “Change the Culture, Change the System.”

Over the course of recent generations, the practice of law has moved from a selfless profession to a business. Competition, gamesmanship, and winning have undermined the pursuit of justice and the collaboration necessary to get there. Judges are not without responsibility, and have failed to neutralize the brinkmanship, control the cost, and deliver speedy outcomes.

We let it happen. And now we can reverse course.

In order for change to be successful, judges and lawyers must rebuild the system so that it inspires pride and respect, not just for those of us who live in it, but most importantly, for those who observe, utilize, and depend on it.

It is imperative that we focus on:

  1. Our professional roots—civility and collegiality
  2. Justice, not winning
  3. Deeper, earlier case work for clients
  4. Better discovery practices
  5. Engaged, accessible, and service-oriented judges
  6. Accessible, responsible, and responsive courts
  7. Utilizing court personnel effectively and efficiently
  8. Smart use of technology
  9. Valuing the system, judges, and juries
  10. Realigning the incentives that drive lawyers

The legal profession is still a noble one, but we have a responsibility to deliver on our promise of a just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of every case. To achieve that, we must truly elevate our sights and focus on the preeminent goals of access, fairness, the search for the truth, and trustworthiness.

For this new reform movement to have traction, each of us must participate: on a case by case level and on a systemic level. If we stand shoulder to shoulder, united in our common vision, and committed to achieving a great system, we will succeed.

Click here to read more about the Top 10 legal culture shifts that we need.