A Roadmap for Court Leaders

By Hartley, Roger E. | Judicature, July/August 2009 | Go to article overview

A Roadmap for Court Leaders


Hartley, Roger E., Judicature


A roadmap for court leaders by Roger E. Hartiey Trial Courts as Organizations, by Brian J. Ostrom, Charles VV. Ostrom, Jr., Roger A. Hanson, and Matthew Kleiman. Temple University Press. 2007. 204 pages. $54.50

Ostrom, Osürom, Hanson, and Kleiman have produced a remarkable book that is useful to both the pure scholar who wishes to understand how criminal trial courts work and to court executives who wish to improve management and performance. This book dramatically advances our knowledge of trial courts by applying organizational tiieory used predominandy to analyze private sector firms. The authors rigorously define court organizational culture for the first time, measure and contrast die culture of trial courts in diree states, and demonstrate important empirical linkages between different cultures and performance. If this had been die only contribution of die book, it would still have been extremely valuable. However, the strengUi of the book is diat it provides a roadmap for court leaders to assess their own cuhure, dieir desired culture, and how to begin to implement cultural change to improve court performance.

Chapter 1 introduces die importance of court organizational culture with a simple vignette of a discussion between two fictional court managers. Despite all that diese courts had in common on workloads, case type, and management challenges, each differed dramatically on their day-to-day work. The variations in how they did dieir work led to great differences in what was accomplished. The chapter notes that past studies pointed to the importance of local legal culture for our understanding of how courts work. However, none of these studies went much beyond describing culture in particular contexts. The authors raise important questions, such as: just what about culture should be changed to reduce case delay? As such, they make a case that we need to dioroughly understand organizational culture in order to impact many of the management problems courts face.

Throughout the book the authors argue diat culture explains differences in how courts organize themselves to achieve their goals. They also promise (and later deliver) diat understanding court culture can shed light on how courts can do their work better and why past court reforms may not measure up in different settings. To accomplish this, the authors impressively provide a comparative study of 12 general jurisdiction criminal trial courts in California, Florida, and Minnesota. The study sites are generally well justified and the authors employ data from botii quantitative (surveys and case data) and qualitative (interviews with judges, court managers, and attorneys) sources to measure and map the existing and desired cultures of each court.

The second and third chapters are among the most important in the book to scholars. Chapter 2 oudines how organizational culture is defined and can be analyzed using existing dieories and methods from scholars of business organizations. After reviewing the methods used to define and assess culture in firms, they apply these to work culture dynamics unique to trial courts. On pages 3536, they highlight the methods used to construct culture profiles for courts from this scholarship. They surveyed knowledgeable experts judges and court administrators using scaling techniques to identify culture types from a list of common court values. They found that culture orientations show their influence on five specific work areas: case management, judicial-staff relations, change management, courthouse leadership, and internal organization.

Two key scales of court culture were identified, defined, and are measured from low to high. Sociability is die degree of friendliness among the people working in an organization while solidarity is the extent to which members of an organization have "clearly understood goals, shared commitments, and common tasks geared to getting the job done." Based on the reported levels of sociability and solidarity, die autiiors identify four distinctive court cultures: communal, netxvorked, hierarchical, and autonomous. …

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