Views of State Courts Leaders and Key Stakeholders on Issues and Trends Affecting State Courts*

By Steelman, David C. | Justice System Journal, September 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Views of State Courts Leaders and Key Stakeholders on Issues and Trends Affecting State Courts*


Steelman, David C., Justice System Journal


One of the difficulties of specialization is that experts in different fields may become so idiosyncratic in their focus and methods that they miss the opportunity to learn from those outside their specialty areas. The differences in perspectives between those who lead and manage the operation of state courts and those who study the operation of state courts as academic social scientists is an example of this problem. Judges and court managers face daily pressures to see that cases are decided justly and promptly, with prudent use of finite resources. Social- science scholars, on the other hand, face constant pressures to publish to achieve tenure and maintain professional status. This may often cause a focus on narrow issues considered most pressing or most immediately relevant to other specialists in the same field. This leads judges and court managers in one direction, to focus on the state of their dockets and their interactions with such other stakeholders as lawyers and elected officials. It leads social-science scholars toward critical analysis of recent work by colleagues and an effort to demonstrate appropriate methodological rigor, with the unfortunate consequence at times that their work products may become opaque, impenetrable, and potentially irrelevant to judges and court managers.

To the extent that social scientists studying state courts wish to make their work relevant to a wider authence, it is worthwhile to learn about the components and implications of broad issues and trends that are most important to such state court leaders as chief justices, trial judges, and state and trial court administrators, as well as such key stakeholders as general counsel for large corporations and other lawyers. This article presents highlights from the results of an annual survey of constituents conducted in February 2008 by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) . Although the survey was not conducted under rigorous methodological controls, the responses from state court stakeholders should be instructive for social scientists.

NATIONAL CENTER SURVEY OF CONSTITUENTS

To remain relevant to its constituents, the National Center conducts a survey each year to identify the priorities of those constituents. The results of this survey are then used by NCSC in a planning process that identifies major organizational initiatives.

The 2008 National Center survey was sent to members of fifteen constituent groups.1 It identified twelve major issues and trends affecting the operation of state courts, as well as components of those issues or trends and their implications for society and state courts. For example, it identified "The Accelerating Pace of Globalization" as a trend, with such sub-issues as "pervasive information connectivity," "révaluation of the concepts of jurisdiction and venue," and "global travel, crime, and legal practices." Survey respondents were asked to indicate the priority of each overall issue with regard to the relevance, magnitude, and urgency it creates for the administtation of justice in the state courts. They were also asked to indicate the priority of each sub-issue.

Next, the survey instrument listed some of the implications of each overall issue. For example, the implications of globalization include outsourcing of work; knowledge transfer to other countries; increases in multiparty litigation; requests by foreign attorneys for temporary practice authority; and increased cultural competency issues. Survey respondents were asked to indicate how important each of these implications is, adding any other implications they might see. In the final part of the survey, it asked respondents to identify any actions that the courts and NCSC should take to address the issues or implications.

HIGHLIGHTS OF SURVEY RESULTS

There were 397 survey respondents, with 21 replies from the National Center's Board of Directors. Other respondents included state court chief justices (17), state court administrators (31), members of the American Judges Association (41), state-level court IT officers (16), members of the National Association for Court Management (203), and members of the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks (20). …

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