Eight Rules for Judicial Time Management

By Wallace, Steven | Judicature, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Eight Rules for Judicial Time Management


Wallace, Steven, Judicature


If there is a seminar that most professionals could profit from it is one teaching time management skills. Inability to maximize one's productive activity during the limited hours available will doom even the most motivated worker. Nor does putting in long hours necessarily translate into getting things done. The simple gist of it is: we each need to develop the ability to get the most out of our day by working effectively, not haphazardly.

The typical time management class would be of no help to a judge due to the uniqueness of the position. Managing a docket is substantially more complicated, and implicates a lot more people, than the work facing the average office worker or manager. We all know how important to the achievement of justice it is for a judge to do what's fair, but it is equally crucial that judges address the more blue collar subject of docket control. Tempering justice with mercy is a good thing, unless it takes six months to do it when it should have taken only two.

Here are Eight Rules for Judicial Time Management Some of them are more easily stated than carried out. But they are de minimus requirements for keeping up with a caseload. A judge gets more than enough opportunities to make people unhappy; it ought not be because they had to wait two hours for a five minute hearing!

Rule 1: Hire the best judicial assistant you can get.

Easier said than done, especially if a judge is looking in the private sector where salaries may more accurately reflect responsibility and workload than does government pay. But a judge who botches this singular staff position choice will suffer, and so will the lawyers and litigants with cases assigned in that division. How important is one's Judicial Assistant (J.A.)? Simply stated, the J.A. sets the court's calendar, and the less time management abilities the judge possesses, the more the J.A. had better have.

If a judge's J.A. loses control, the judge is out of control. The J.A. must be capable of recognizing how much a judge is able to accomplish within the time constraints of each day and live by that limitation. The J.A. must do this with professional charm as he or she deals with pushy legal secretaries, demanding lawyers, and an uninformed public.

The J.A. must have the intelligence to handle complicated procedures and the flexibility to react to each day's emergencies. Since he or she controls the flow of demands upon the judge's time, the J.A. has to be able to distinguish between the ones that should get through and the ones that shouldn't. And the J.A. has to be able to handle or re-direct the ones the judge won't see.

In many respects, a J.A. will be making judge-like decisions, exercising discretion in dozens of ways that impact upon the lives of litigants. He or she will be performing this role according to the judge's guidelines but, for the most part, in the judge's absence, and every decision will reflect upon the judge.

All of this will be for pay that's substantially less than what the J.A. ought to get. So while he or she has to be bright enough to function in a stressful, demanding job, the J.A. must also be willing to think that the prestige and the opportunity to serve make it worthwhile.

Rule 2: Start on time

Too often judges lose track of time and keep a courtroom full of people waiting while they chat on the telephone, drink coffee, finish a smoke, or relax in chambers before returning to the bench. Aside from the damage this does to a judge's reputation in the legal community (and beyond), the impact upon the docket is horrendous.

As a general rule, there will never be enough working hours available for a judge to do what needs to be done. It seems one is always behind, no matter how hard one works. caseload is the readily identifiable culprit, but only up to a point. A judge will lose part of his or her grip on the handle unless making a habit of getting started on time. …

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