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. With the challenges facing our state and federal courts coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
- 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.
When the pandemic took hold in 2020, courts had to figure out how to ensure continuity of operations while balancing public health and safety. While caseloads were down, many expect a surge in cases in the coming year, including high-volume cases such as consumer debt, eviction, and foreclosure cases. In addition to the expected litigation surge, courts are also facing a backlog of cases, given that the number of cases disposed over the pandemic has been less than filings. This all adds up to a significant backlog for our state and federal courts.
Now, more than ever, courts need to implement case management approaches to increase efficiency while also ensuring a fair and just process for all.
But, here's the rub. The literature and experience on the ground all pointed to the importance of case management decades ago. And the challenges and resistance prior to the pandemic have not disappeared—they will only be compounded. Many judges around the country are faced with docket pressures that can make the demand for early, active judicial management in every case challenging, particularly at the state level. 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. Courts have responded quickly and innovatively to the pandemic, but they now have the additional challenge of assessing those changes and defining the new “normal” going forward.
How can we change the culture, pierce through past resistance, and ensure that case management is fundamental to addressing these challenges post-pandemic?
In the end, we come 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. And case management needs to be central to ensuring access to justice post-pandemic.
IAALS offers a number of resources to help courts redefine their approach to case management and implement more efficient practices:
- Redefining Case Management includes an expanded set of ten case management guidelines to breathe new life into the concepts and practices supporting case management. The guidelines are based on first-hand feedback from experts in court and case management and on an examination of client and customer management strategies from industries outside of the legal system, which provide invaluable insight into how justice system stakeholders might rethink case, court, and judicial management. These expert and interdisciplinary perspectives are included throughout the publication to support a fresh approach to 21st Century case management.
- Working Smarter, Not Harder: How Excellent Judges Manage Cases is a joint project between IAALS and the American College of Trial Lawyers, which involved interviewing nearly 30 state and federal trial court judges who were identified as being outstanding and efficient case managers. The publication documents their recommendations, key practices, and strategies in hopes that their experience can serve as a model for other judges who want to replicate their success, to the benefit of the parties who appear before them.
- The Modern Family Court Judge: Knowledge, Qualities & Skills for Success draws attention to the special knowledge, qualities, and skills that family court judges need to be successful. Twenty-seven requisite skills, qualities, and areas of knowledge are discussed in the report, including: knowledge of child development and family dynamics; understanding of domestic violence, child maltreatment, substance abuse and addiction, and mental health issues; cultural competence and understanding one's own biases; communication that emphasizes clarity and brevity; honed listening skills; and exercising leadership from the bench.
- A Roadmap for Review: Guide for Appraisal and Improvement of Caseflow Management of Civil Cases in U.S. District Courts provides the tools for any interested federal judge to make a quick, initial assessment of the status of their civil case docket to measure how it compares to their colleagues, as well as to courts across the nation, with the goal of improving caseflow management in civil cases in the U.S. District Courts. The guide also provides the means for a more in depth docket analysis, as well as recommendations for better caseflow management practices.