Module Principle

While the specific functions court leaders perform and the environments in which they work varies significantly, fundamental and enduring principles serve as the foundation for the profession. Competencies in this module outline those principles.

Public Trust and Confidence

Public trust and confidence in the courts is integral to the credibility of the judicial branch. To be effective at managing trust and confidence, court leaders must be able to maintain an organizational culture that fosters integrity, transparency and accountability for all court processes and proceedings.


Maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in the courts is integral to the credibility of the judicial branch. This trust cannot be assumed. The court must establish and nurture public trust through its core responsibility of resolving disputes. The court process must not only be just, it must-have the appearance of being just. Public perceptions of the court system are largely formed by the experiences of individual parties in individual cases, all looking to the court for prompt and fair resolution of their disputes. Guided by the principles of procedural fairness, courts can enhance public trust and confidence by treating every party — plaintiffs, victims and defendants alike — with dignity and respect, and explaining the court process and court rulings in a timely matter. Trust and confidence are further enhanced through the transparent and consistent application of court procedures, timely resolution of court cases and providing public information regarding the court processes, court services and mechanisms for accessing them.

Court leaders help promote and maintain public trust and confidence by creating organizational cultures that foster integrity, transparency and accountability for court processes and operations.


The degree to which the judicial branch can promote the rule of law and protect individual rights is, in large part, determined by the respect of the public for its authority. As noted above, court leaders should strive to promote public trust and confidence in courts by creating and promoting an organizational culture that fosters integrity, transparency and accountability for all court processes and proceedings.

Ensuring public trust and confidence in the court, regardless of the court’s jurisdiction and/or environment in which it functions, requires all court leaders to carry out their function(s) in a manner that promotes the following:

  • On-going provision of information to the public to ensure understanding of the court process, services available and methods for accessing them.
  • Responsiveness to the multiple cultures, languages and special populations who utilize court services, including but not limited to individuals with disabilities, and those with limited literacy or English proficiency.
  • Easily accessible assistance for self-represented litigants to help them navigate the judicial process. 1
  • Regular reports to the public summarizing court workload and relevant measures relating to the efficiency and fairness with which it has been handled.

Purposes and Responsibilities

Court leaders must be able to carry out the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of the courts. To do this, court leaders must ensure that their courts are meeting these purposes and responsibilities and to aspire to meet several specific goals.


The most fundamental aspect of court leadership is an understanding of the purposes and responsibilities of the court and providing the leadership to ensure that these continuously guide court operations, policies, and procedures.  Pursuant to the judicial authority granted in the United States Constitution and the constitutions of states and territories and applicable laws, the primary responsibility of the judicial branch is to provide an impartial forum for the resolution of disputes. This ensures the rule of law and protection of individual rights. Over time, this fundamental responsibility of the judicial branch has been expanded to encompass other areas of importance, including but not limited to the following:

  • Ensuring access to the court process for all who seek it.
  • Managing the business of the court in a manner that promotes efficiency, transparency and the opportunity for fair and timely disposition of the cases filed.
  • Exercising leadership among other justice-related agencies to develop strategies that join the interests of all three branches of government, recognizing that the court cannot operate in isolation, while, at the same time, must maintain its independence.

The longstanding and widely accepted “purposes of courts” in carrying out these responsibilities are the following: 2

  • To promote justice in individual cases.
  • To ensure the public perceptions of justice in individual cases.
  • To provide an impartial forum for the resolution of legal disputes.
  • To protect individuals against the arbitrary use of governmental power.
  • To provide for a formal record of legal status.
  • To deter criminal behavior.
  • To rehabilitate individuals convicted of crime.
  • To provide for the separation of convicted individuals from society where necessary.

Over time, these fundamental purposes of the courts expanded to include other areas of emphasis, including the following:

  • To protect vulnerable populations — abused and neglected children and adults, from the abuse of power in any form.
  • To promote coordination with justice, public health, social service and other agencies to address common problems underlying the court’s criminal and civil caseload, including substance use and mental health.

These fundamental purposes and responsibilities of courts apply regardless of the specific jurisdiction in which a court functions and provide both the philosophical and legal framework for the daily work of all court leaders. They also delineate the essential differences between the role court leaders and those professionals who work in other public sector entities.

Purposes and responsibilities of courts should never be confused with efficiency or even the constitutional means of the separation of powers, judicial independence, and the inherent powers of the courts. Courts exist to do justice, to guarantee liberty, to enhance social order, to resolve disputes, to maintain rule of law, to provide for equal protection, and to ensure due process of law. They exist so the equality of individuals and the government is reality rather than empty rhetoric.


Carrying out the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of a court requires all court leaders, regardless of their specific position, to ensure their respective courts:

  • Protect fundamental constitutional and legal rights and promote the rule of law.
  • Provide access to all who seek court intervention.
  • Support the timely and fair disposition of all cases.

Recognizing that court leaders perform diverse functions in an array of environments, the following are goals that court professionals should aspire to meet:

  • Ensure the court’s mission and vision statements support the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of courts.
  • Provide education on the purposes and responsibilities of the court for court staff.
  • Promote the independence of the judiciary through its budgeting process and independent policy-making functions.

Module Practice

These Competencies relate to both daily and long-term functions court leaders must perform, either individually or in collaboration with others. Not all court leaders will individually perform all of the functions associated with these Competencies but they should be aware of their relevance, the key skills they entail and their application, as appropriate, to their specific roles in the courts.

Caseflow and Workflow

Court leaders play a critical role in caseflow and workflow management for the court, ensuring that court's work is performed efficiently and to promote the fair and timely resolution of all cases filed. Effective caseflow and workflow management requires that court leaders have a variety of analytic and communication skills.


Caseflow Management is the process by which courts carry out their primary function of moving cases from filing to disposition. The management of caseflow is critical because it helps guarantee every litigant receives procedural due process and equal protection. Caseflow Management involves the organization and coordination of personnel and other resources to promote the fair and timely resolution of all cases filed.  Properly understood, caseflow management is the heart of court management.

Workflow Management involves the coordination and support of all tasks, procedures, resources (human and other) necessary to guarantee the work of the court is conducted efficiently and consistent with the court’s purposes and responsibilities. While Workflow Management includes Caseflow Management, it also includes all tasks and functions necessary for the court to operate as an organization.

To manage effective court caseflow and workflow systems, court leaders require a range of management functions and skills, discussed below. The framework within which court leaders perform these functions relies on:

  • Coordination with justice system partners — the prosecutor, public defender, social service agencies, the private bar and legislative and executive branches.
  • Common understanding of applicable policies and procedures.
  • Adherence to performance standards. 3
  • System monitoring and reporting. Use of relevant and evolving technologies.


Most court management staff are involved, to varying degrees, in the court’s caseflow and workflow systems. While specific function(s) and responsibilities may vary, court leaders should have a number of key analytic and communication skills.  In particular, court leaders should be able to:

  • Establish and maintain effective working relationships with judges, court staff and personnel in other organizational entities involved in court processes, including funding authorities, to enable the court to accomplish effective case management.
  • Identify variations in caseload type and complexity (e.g., the application of differentiated case management techniques) and assess implications for the court’s caseflow and workflow processes and implement new protocols as needed.
  • Use automated management information systems to generate information about operations that allows for the monitoring of case processing.
  • Develop performance standards, protocols for monitoring performance and methods to identify emerging issues and potential resources needed to address them. 4
  • Contribute to the preparation of information about the court’s caseload and caseflow for judges, court staff and other justice system stakeholder.
  • Based on the analysis of caseflow, identify situations where backlogs or other inefficiencies exist along with recommendations for improvement.

Operations Management

Courts are complex organizations, which are comprised of an array of departments, units and functions that need to be maintained on an on-going basis to support court operations. Although court leaders may not need to perform all of the various functions, organizational and management competencies should be developed to support whatever functions may be required.


Court leaders must manage and support complex environments which are comprised of an array of departments, units and functions that need to be maintained on an on-going basis to support court operations. The range and nature of these functions and activities varies significantly, depending on court jurisdiction (e.g., appellate, general, limited, administrative), whether the court is federal, state, local or tribal; and the unique way(s) individual courts are organized and operate.

In addition to proficiency in the functional areas addressed in other Competencies, court leaders need to be prepared to deal with many other functions and services courts provide on a regular basis, both planned and at times unexpected.  To do this, court leaders may need to support a wide range of services and activities that are essential to carrying out the functions and mission of most courts, recognizing that some functions may vary, depending upon the jurisdiction of the court (e.g., juror management, records management, and evidence management).

The following is a list — certainly not exhaustive — of the range of essential court functions within the operations of the court that court leaders will likely manage and frequently perform:

Services Required by U.S. Constitution or Federal Regulations –

  • Jury Functions — preparing annual master lists, summonsing and notifying prospective jurors, scheduling and selecting jurors for trials, handling requests for extensions and excusal, managing automated jury management systems, ensuring randomness in selection of jurors, processing payments, evaluating jury yield and utilizing and providing comfortable facilities for hosting jurors. 5
  • Indigent Defense Services — either exercising primary appointment responsibility or limited responsibility for conflict counsel.
  • Foreign Language Resources — consistent with statutes and federal Limited English Proficiency (LEP) requirements, including assigning interpreters, maintaining lists of qualified interpreters in multiple languages and implementing a Language Access plan.
  • Making the Verbatim Record — making of the record of court proceedings is a core function of courts.  The official record is not only the basis of appeals but also a means of reviewing all that transpires in the courtroom including their assignment, quality monitoring and preparation of transcripts. A valuable resource is NACM’s The Making the Verbatim Record Guide.

Programs and Special Services –

  • Probation Services (if a division of the court) — consisting of a variety of court (judge) ordered actions under the direction of a discreet probation function. Probation related services may be provided for adult or juvenile offenders, and oversight or monitoring functions may also pertain to non-criminal cases.
  • Problem-solving courts and Specialty Dockets — seeking to promote outcomes that will benefit not only the offender, but the victim and society as well using collaborate, innovative approaches to addressing offenders’ problems, including drug abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence.
  • Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) services — resolving cases or disputes without a trial by the process most suitable for the dispute (which could be litigation). ADR processes other than litigation may be used in virtually all types of cases – civil, criminal, family court, juvenile, misdemeanor, and traffic cases.
  • Special Court Ordered Services — appointing outside professional experts for psychological assessments, discovery and special masters, forensic accountants and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

Access and Direct Services –

  • Court User Services
    • Family court services.
    • Self-help services.
    • Law libraries.
    • Electronic legal research services.
    • Facilities for filing complaints such as through an Ombudsman.
  • Access for Persons with Disabilities — ensuring that all qualified individuals with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities that are available to persons without disabilities. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
  • Courtroom Operations — overseeing courtroom clerical staff; recording the minutes of court proceedings; issuing court rulings, notices and forms; assigning and training staff; ensuring minutes are captured and recorded; processing documents, filings and exhibits presented in court; issuing court orders; operating automated case management, recording systems and other technologies, and interacting with the court’s customers.
  • Records — establishing records management policies and overseeing/managing the records of the court, including case, financial, and personnel records, in a manner that is consistent with statutes related to privacy, security, and retention. 
  • Filings, Fines, Fees and Exhibits — accepting, processing, and managing case related filings, fee collection, records, and exhibits.

Infrastructure and Support –

  • Information Technology — procuring, developing, managing and implementing to plan for and manage technology applications in the court focusing on (1) developing and implementing a vision for the application of technology; (2) addressing technology governance, planning and policy issues; (3) conducting business practice analysis/workflow engineering and integrating technology with court processes and user needs; (4) fiscal management; (5) managing technology projects; (6) data management and security; and (7) ensuring accountability of systems.
  • Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) — preparing for and planning for recovery when court operations are compromised or at risk of being compromised by real or potential threats.  Court leaders may likely be the principal planners, conveners, facilitators, delegators and communicators in their jurisdiction. Judges, court staff and representatives from other justice system agencies may look to the court leader(s) to (1) provide leadership and ensure the continued operation of the court; (2) serve as the source of critical information about contingency plans; and (3) provide key details regarding operations of the court when emergency strikes.
  • Facilities Management — commitment to maintaining a safe, secure, accessible, well-planned and dignified environment for court operations and doing so in a manner which adopts best practices and inspires public confidence.  The success of any facilities management program depends upon several factors that include: 1) The development of a strategic planning process, 2) Good communication among the stakeholders and the public, 3) Development of consensus, and 4) Strong project management.
  • Security — maintaining a free-and-open access to justice court through the development and implementation of proper court security procedures, processes and infrastructure to protect people, property, and information while maintaining the integrity of the judicial process.


Not all court leaders will perform all of the functions listed above, and there are undoubtedly additional functions not listed that court leaders may be called upon to perform. Similarly, the range of essential components of court operations and services court leaders will need to perform varies significantly with the level, jurisdiction and organization of the court in which they serve, and are likely change over time. As such, court leaders should develop competencies in more organizational and managerial skills overall to support the other essential components of court operations, with a particular focus on:

  • Identification of the courts’ functional requirements to perform and manage daily operations, the personnel and other support required and the skills and resources necessary to ensure that the functions are effectively performed, managed and monitored.
  • Development and management of contracts, including the procurement and oversight of services provided by outside entities and sole practitioners, (e.g., interpreters, mental health service providers, etc.) as required, to perform these other essential components of a court’s operation and mission.
  • Continual application of the requirements of statutes, court rules, policies and procedures to court operational practices to guarantee all court functions and services are carried out competently, and are consistent with constitutional, statutory and other requirements and evidence-based standards of performance.
  • Recognition of and response to demographic and other trends that affect the need for court services, including interpreters and legal assistance.

Public Relations

The court leader's role is not just limited to working internally within the court; it also includes communicating with a wide variety of audiences about the courts and court processes. To be effective, court leaders need to use a variety of communication methods tailored to the nature of the message being conveyed and audience targeted.


One of the court leaders’ key roles is communication with a wide range of audiences to enhance the public’s understanding of the court process and the role of the courts in preserving the rule of law and protecting individual rights. As has been stressed in throughout the Core Competencies, the rule of law is the foundation of a civilized society and courts are the institutions charged with safeguarding this fundamental principle. Unfortunately, courts and court processes are often not well understood. Without the public’s understanding of the court and its processes, the public’s trust and confidence in the court can be but a distant goal and the primacy and authority of courts can be eroded. As such, court leaders must continually provide information to the public regarding the court’s functions and services.

The court leader will need to develop multiple methods to regularly deliver information about the court to the public. Critical to these methods is the development of on-going relationships with the media so they are familiar with the court process and are in a position to regularly provide positive media coverage of the court, its operations and its key initiatives. Such communications should occur both routinely and during times of crisis. Whether these communications are addressing routine court matters or special crises, it is very important that the court speak with one voice. To be effective at providing public information, court leaders need to communicate what courts do to the wide range of audiences with which it needs to connect, using a variety of communication methods tailored to the nature of the message being conveyed and audience targeted. The court leader’s overall goal for these communications should focus on promoting the public’s understanding of the role of the court to preserve the rule of law, and its critical role in safeguarding the fundamental constitutional and legal rights of all individuals.


Providing public information requires court leaders to demonstrate competency in a variety of skills and activities, taking into account the wide range of contexts in which court leaders work.  Specifically, courts leaders should be able to:

  • Develop a comprehensive media and information dissemination plan that includes different media such as print, broadcast, news and various forms of electronic, social media and public speaking engagements, as appropriate.
  • Provide ongoing education of all court personnel regarding their obligations and limitations for providing information to the public in connection with the various transactions in which they may be involved.
  • Connect with and respond to issues of importance in the community relating to the court process, including meaningful access to the judicial process and court services, services to unrepresented litigants, pretrial release options, onsite child care services, services for non-English speaking individuals and others.
  • Establish productive working relationships with key community groups and constituencies that can promote the exchange of information in both routine and crisis situations.
  • Open lines of communication regarding community perceptions of the court.
  • Expand mechanisms for delivering information about the court through multiple formats and vehicles, such as printed documents and reports, telephone, websites, kiosks, social media, news shows and public education forums.
  • Nurture strong relationships with the organized bar including bar leaders, local law schools and other relevant groups to promote the timely exchange of information and feedback critical to the court’s operational efficiency as well as its image in the community.

Educational Development

Excellence in court performance starts with a court leader who fosters a culture that embraces education, training, and development and who actively leads judicial branch education.


A key function for the court leader is the assurance of excellent court performance by actively leading judicial branch education in their courts. Because judicial branch education helps courts maintain the balance between a continually evolving operational environment and the enduring principles and predictable processes of the court, it cannot be remedial and limited to training alone. Rather educational development must be strategic and involve education, training, and development.

The effective court leader ensures that education, training, and development are recognized as essential and works to build a culture within the court to support it. This means excellence in programming; demonstrable results, both inside and outside the courts; and reliable and consistent funding.


To succeed in fostering a well-educated court, the court leader should strive to ensure that education, training, and development be:

  • Continuous and creative — responding both to traditional legal processes and powerful and changing demands.
  • Inclusive — ensuring that education, training, and development (judicial branch education) happens in all courts and across the judiciary and justice system and is delivered to a target audience that is broader than judges and court staff.
  • Accessible and tailored — requiring that personal and professional growth and skill development opportunities are equally available and readily available and affordable, in time and money; and that they consider the background, experiences and needs of individual judges, staff, and others on whom the courts depend.
  • Well-managed — ensuring that judicial branch education for judges, staff, and others is aligned with the court, its mission, vision, structure, and workflows and that it is built using adult learning and instructional design principles to create a transformative learning experience that will empower judges and court staff to apply their learning in their work environment to achieve positive change.  Content should be based on the needs of the audience, with the ultimate goal of improving the administration of justice and enhancing public trust and confidence. 6
  • Delivered using multiple mechanisms — ensuring that education is interactive and uses blended teaching involving multiple delivery mechanisms including in-person courses and online learning through webcasts and asynchronous learning management systems.
  • Evaluated — making sure that judicial branch education programs evolve in response to the social context, needs for equitable access to development opportunities, and assessments of their success in meeting personal needs and organizational priorities.

Court leaders must actively lead and support judicial branch education in their courts. Education, training and development are not pleasurable diversions from daily routines, training for the sake of training, or a luxury. Court leaders are also critical in ensuring that transfer of education occurs by supporting staff who attend training and then return to the workplace and implement what they learned.

The target audience is diverse in education, experience, professional orientation, age, gender and race. Courts have employees who remain with the court their whole career. They also have employees who come and go quickly. When education and training and human resources are aligned, the court is better able to identify, develop and retain its best employees. When talented staff leave the court, competent replacements take their place or are recruited from the outside. This ensures that the most promising people find job satisfaction and acceptable career paths in specific trial courts and state court systems or in the judicial administration profession generally. While judicial branch education supports succession planning, cross-jurisdictional movement of talented staff benefits all courts through organizational learning across all levels of local, state and federal courts. When appropriate, judges and staff should be educated and trained together, especially at the local level. This demonstrates that the judicial and justice system are interdependent; the issues are systemic.

To contribute to the development of individuals, courts and the court management profession, judicial branch education must:

  • Span the career of individuals, and not be limited to orientation or training to perform specific tasks.
  • Provide for significant interaction among program participants.
  • Include experienced professionals as faculty and in the planning and evaluation process to ensure real and perceived problems are addressed in every program.
  • Utilize adult education and instructional design principles in the planning and delivery of courses in order to effectively convey the knowledge and information, as well as to develop the skills, abilities, and attitudes necessary for judicial officers and court staff to perform at their highest level.
  • Address a wide variety of topics, both practical and theoretical. Through programs that meet these criteria, courts are better able to become and remain learning organizations. Education, training and development sustains enduring principles, maintains and protects daily routines, and stimulates needed change. Those in leadership positions set the vision and take responsibility for the maintenance of the organization and its growth and transformation. Education and development is a critical means to advance the court’s values, vision, and achieve desired goals.  The bottom line is excellent trial court and justice system performance.

Workforce Management

Managing and motivating the workforce requires court leaders to not only understand the laws, legal rulings, and policies that guide the courts' operations but also to be skilled in a number of specific human resource tasks.


To carry out their fundamental purposes and responsibilities, courts must have the human talent to achieve the court’s mission and vision. The court leader must work every day to secure, manage, educate, and motivate court staff.  To do this, the court leader should have specific, technical expertise and knowledge of relevant laws, legal rulings and policies relating to day-to-day operations along with a host of human resource related skills and capabilities.

The court leader, who effectively manages and motivates the workforce, should possess the skills and capabilities necessary for job analysis and classification; performance management; workforce planning; professional staff development; development and updating of compensation and benefit plans; risk management; employee relations; and organizational change management. In short, the competent court leader secures the right people with the right skills.


The court leader performing functions relating to the management, development and motivation of the court workforce, should be able to competently:

  • Attract, engage and retain a diverse workforce.
  • Develop and continually update a comprehensive manual of personnel policies and procedures that relate specifically to the court.
  • Ensure merit-based selection and promotion.
  • Encourage staff development by resolving performance problems and setting and supporting goals to be achieved.
  • Create a “high performance” work culture and environment by developing performance expectations, metrics-oriented performance monitoring systems and feedback and review mechanisms. 7
  • Assess and recommend appropriate personnel classification and competitive compensation, benefit and reward structures.
  • Identify staff education needs and secure resources for meeting those needs.
  • Use a variety of staff development tools: education, training, coaching, mentoring and professional development opportunities of both a basic and advanced nature that meet individual and organizational needs. 8
  • Support activities that address generational and other differences in the workforce.
  • Create a work environment that recognizes and optimizes extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.
  • Set and monitor ethical standards and behaviors. 9
  • Employ efforts to enforce policies that prohibit harassment, bullying and other actions that define a hostile work environment.


Ultimately effective court leadership requires ethical actions. Court leaders must be ethical in order preserve the public’s trust and confidence for the judiciary and the value of rule of law. At a minimum court leaders must uphold the ethical standards demanded of the citizens, but court leaders must also maintain an even higher standard demanded of them as stewards of the judicial process and the institution of the courts. Ethics is the expression of a personal commitment to the principles of citizenship and justice; it is not a tool by which we measure others. Ethics demonstrates the court leaders’ pledge; the pledge to court staff, to the judges, to other justice community leaders, and to the public that the courts serve.


It is oft repeated that judicial branch service is a public trust, which court professionals strive to sustain. The citizens determine the value of the courts; it is up to the court leader to demonstrate why citizens should value the courts. The ethics of court leaders permeates all the other components of The Core. Ethics is the basis that supports the fundamental purposes and responsibilities of courts as a co–equal branch of government. It is the framework in which court leaders demonstrate leadership of others, project the plans and vision of the future, make known the courts’ message to the community, manage caseflow and workflow evenly and equitably, and hold court leaders and the courts accountable as part of the fabric of society.


Ethical court leaders should be able to understand and competently promote (through their own behavior) the following concepts:

  • Acting appropriately and projecting the appearance of acting appropriately in performing court administrative work.
    • Working diligently, efficiently, equitably, thoroughly, courteously, honestly, truthfully, impartially, without bias or prejudice, and with transparency
    • Carrying out properly issued court orders and rules
    • Staying within a court professional’s authority, and not using one’s position to secure unwarranted privileges or dispense favors
    • Resisting improper influences from business, family, position, party, and friends, or interests that might impair one’s impartiality
    • Avoiding activities that might impugn the dignity of the court
    • Being cognizant of the rights of those in protected classes
    • Treating co-workers and all those who interact with the court with dignity, respect and courtesy
    • Notifying appropriate authorities whenever oneself, one’s family, or one’s friends, are a party in a court action
    • Comprehensively answering questions involving standard court procedures, while carefully avoiding giving legal advice
    • Recruiting, selecting, and advancing staff based on work–related factors, and not favoritism
    • Avoiding (whenever possible) directly supervising family members, and avoiding opportunities to influence a family member’s employment or promotion
    • Reporting attempts to compel one to violate these canons
    • Refusing to inappropriately destroy, alter, falsify, mutilate, or backdate court records; ensuring that appropriate entries are made;
    • Maintaining court confidentialities, but properly providing confidential information to authorized individuals
    • Applying good judgment in weighing the credibility of Internet data
    • Treating personal information with the discretion one would want others to use if placed in a similar situation
    • Using the court’s resources, property, and funds judiciously as prescribed.
  • Minimizing conflicts of interest in one’s official position
    • Avoiding outside employment, business activities, even subsequent employment and business activities that reflect poorly on the judiciary and on one’s own professionalism, even after leaving the court;
    • Notifying court authorities before accepting work or business opportunities outside the court;
    • Neither asking for nor accepting compensation beyond that received in the course of public employment;
    • Engaging in outside employment only as it does not conflict with the performance of one’s official responsibilities or violate this code;
    • Disclosing financial interests and dealings required by law, rule, or regulation.
    • Acting appropriately regarding political activity
    • Retaining the right to vote, while limiting political activity to after business hours and only using non–court resources;Unless campaigning for one’s own elected position taking unpaid leave to run for office.
  • Acting appropriately regarding political activity
    • Unless campaigning for one’s own elected position taking unpaid leave to run for office.
    • Retaining the right to vote, while limiting political activity to after business hours and only using non–court resources;

Budget and Fiscal Management

Even the most highly skilled court leader needs access to adequate funding, resources, and facilities for effective and efficient court operations. Not only does the court leader need to be able to develop complex plans to secure the necessary resources, he or she must also be able to effectively manage the court's budgets and resources.


Court leaders have a dual role in both securing resources for court operations and effectively managing those resources. All courts, regardless of size or jurisdiction, function as co-equal branches of government that must work transparently and collaboratively with legislative and executive branches to secure, manage and account for the resources they need. These resources include the people, funding, equipment, technology and supplies necessary to operate the court.

Court leaders need to work across many different levels and branches of government for funding and facilities to secure resources from various sources. The budgets for state, local and tribal courts, as well as their resources, generally rely on appropriations from state and local funding sources, including legislative and executive branch resources. Many courts also draw on state and federal grant funds. Federal courts, on the other hand, generally derive their resources through a more focused, single source budget process.

For courts to have the funding, equipment and resources necessary to operate, court leaders must perform a variety of complex functions and establish/manage numerous relationships. In addition, court leaders must be able to manage the court’s budget, resources and facilities constantly and be able to respond quickly to developments outside of its control.


Managing the court’s budget and resources often involves multiple staff performing interrelated functions. Regardless of the particular court environment in which court leaders function, competency in managing the court budget and resources should reflect a court leader’s ability to:

  • Develop budgets, including the use and application of key metrics for budget planning, development, program delivery, audits, assessment of program outcomes and allocation or reallocation of resources necessary to meet the court’s needs and provide justification to funding bodies.
  • Manage varied resources necessary for the court to operate.
  • Develop a plan for responding to potential budget cuts or for funding new projects.
  • Identify and support the range of resources the court needs to function.
  • Manage the court’s assets to safeguard their adequacy to support the court’s functions.
  • Ensure timely financial management and auditing.
  • Communicate the court’s fiscal and other resource needs to executive and legislative branch representatives through regular communication in which the court’s needs are presented within a framework of justice system — not simply court — operations.
  • Collect and use workload and performance indicators that reflect budget needs and priorities.
  • Define key fund accounts and assess the true cost of applying for and managing grant funds.
  • Define relevant financial policies for the court.
  • Develop a plan of action for emergency situations involving the court’s fiscal operations and facilities.

Accountability and Court Performance

Thinking that the court is performing at its best and knowing it are two different things. Court leaders are accountable to both the judiciary and the public for a well-run court, which means that managers must be able to both effectively measure and manage performance. Skillful collection and analysis of performance information ensures that court managers no longer just think the court is performing well but are able to demonstrate it.


Being a good manager means being able to monitor performance–to identify what is working well and what is not.  The judiciary relies on this aspect of court management, as does the public, to ensure optimum court performance.  Ensuring accountability, measuring performance and applying performance measures to court practices are not new concepts. This commitment to delivering fair and speedy justice and improving accountability to the public dates back to the 1970s with the publication of the American Bar Association Time Standards (1976) 10 and the COSCA Time Standards (1983). 11 Over the last several decades, a number of tools have been developed and refined to help court leaders measure and manage performance, such as the Trial Court Performance Standards (1990); 12 Appellate Court Performance Measures (2009); 13 CourTools (2005); 14  the High Performance Court Framework (2010); 15 and the Principles for Judicial Administration (2012). 16 These documents provide a solid foundation for the court community to help court leaders both measure and manage performance. However, tools alone are simply that–tools–court leaders must be able to apply the tools skillfully to move from performance measurement to performance management.


In terms of court operations and services, what is measured and how it is measured depends on the specific context and environment in which a court operates. Nevertheless, to effectively measure and manage performance, court leaders, regardless of their specific function(s) or environments, should work to achieve the competency in:

  • Analytic skills to organize, collect and analyze data.
  • Management skills focused on applying the knowledge gained from the analysis of data to improve the performance of court operations.
  • Communication skills to convey information about performance.

Court leaders who are effective at measuring and managing performance should be able to:

  • Address Expectations — identify, understand and apply performance measures that address litigant expectations that the court process is clear, well designed and procedurally fair. The outcome is connected to the key court events and the administrative practices ensure the court process is purposeful and deliberative.
  • Address Effectiveness — identify, understand and apply performance measures that address the effectiveness of court procedures in the handling of cases, such as avoiding unnecessary litigation costs and time, while evaluating how court operations balance the desire for appropriate attention given to every case with the concurrent responsibility to treat cases proportionately, given the limitation of resources and growing caseload demands.
  • Address Efficiency — identify, understand and apply performance measures and targeted benchmarks that reveal how well court resources are allocated, whether the court’s processes and procedures are efficient and the level of productivity of judges and court staff collectively in reducing time to disposition and eliminating unnecessary actions that do not contribute toward the disposition of a case or delivery of services to litigants and others requiring court services.
  • Diagnose Results — apply the results of performance measurement activities to improve court performance, identify areas of work warranting correction and suggest what practices call for modifications.
  • Organize and Present Data — present the results of performance measurement activities in a format that promotes understanding and use by judges, court staff, justice system partners and the public.
  • Effectively Communicate — communicate to the public and its public policy partners the performance of the court in carrying out its constitutional duties, performing the necessary operational responsibilities and meeting the expectations of the public and court’s public policy partners and areas warranting improvement.
  • Integrate Results to Promote a System Orientation for On-going Improvement of Court operations and services — incorporate the principles and methods of performance measurement into all aspects of court operations that are focused on accountability, continuous improvement and enhancing knowledge through managing for results and responding to changing circumstances.
  • Efficiently Gather Information — use appropriate methods to gather information, to identify problems, determine the critical questions to ask and identify data requirements and data sources needed.
  • Organize Data  collect and store data in a form that facilitates the analytical process: identify trends and patterns and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.
  • Develop Meaningful and Valid Data Analysis — identify cause and effect relationships, determine the authenticity and validity of sources of information, identify gaps in information and present findings, conclusions and recommendations in a well-organized, clear and meaningful format to facilitate review and understanding by the decision-makers who are asked to act.
  • Disseminate Information to Different Audiences — synthesize and present information adapted to targeted audiences: judges, staff, justice system partners, funders and the public, to promote new perspectives.
  • Use Data To Drive Management Decisions — within the framework of recognized standards of practice.

Module Vision

The Competencies included in this module focus on the creation of a strategic vision for the court. To perform this function, the court leader must demonstrate creativity, stamina, drive, conceptual and analytical skills and the ability to execute. These traits position the court leader to work with judicial officers and other system leaders as part of a leadership team, to assess and respond to trends and to promote overall court capacity.


Leadership is an energetic process of creating vision resulting in commitment to a common course and preferred future. Just as there is no one best way to manage courts, there is no best way to be a court leader. Leadership is highly personal – some people are naturally better able than others although everyone can learn good leadership techniques.


Effective court managers/leaders create, implement, and nurture a clear and compelling vision for the court, bringing a strategic perspective to their work, while staying attuned to daily operations. The combination of leadership and proactive management enable the court to fulfill the public’s trust in the judiciary through service and adherence to the rule of law. The effective court leader is ultimately measured by the judiciary’s performance in the key areas procedural due process, the protection of rights, transparency, accessibility, the stewardship of scarce resources, and the achievement of timely justice in individual cases.[1] Effective court leadership delivers on these promises through a well-defined and fully operational governance structure.[2]

This Competency focuses on the traits and behaviors effective court managers/leaders should demonstrate. At their core, great leaders “turn ideas into reality and sustain them over time, independent of the leader.”[3] Thus, great leaders exhibit behaviors that require skills described in detail in the other Core Competencies. Leaders are optimistic, positive change agents who focus on important strategic goals. “…Leadership exists, when one or more persons engage others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”[4] Leaders are also visible, approachable, and model behavior courts need inside and outside of the organization. Court leaders, both judges and court executives, can achieve this result by working effectively in judicial executive teams.

A sound governance structure[5] establishes the legitimate authority for leadership to bring into action what needs to be accomplished and for the further development of trust between a central office and autonomous work units[6]. The governance structure needs to be clearly articulated so there is no confusion as to who has the responsibility and authority to lead. This is particularly important since the judicial branch works from a position of interdependence with others.[7]

[1] Link to Purposes and Responsibilities

[2] Link to Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[3] Cite to Warren Bennis

[4] James MacGregor Burns in Leadership

[5] See also Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[6] Link to Ibid.

[7] A Case for Court Governance Principles (p.3)


Regardless of the context in which a court operates, court managers who also provide proactive leadership for the court, should be able to:

  • Look beyond today’s crises by being grounded in the present while always anticipating the future.
  • Be persistent yet flexible, guide with credibility, respect others, and be accountable for actions.
  • Inspire others to act. Leadership that creates and sustains improvements has an inspirational dimension.
  • Influence and empower leaders and followers to work toward mutual goals.
  • Serve as an effective decision maker, conflict manager, and problem solver.
  • Simultaneously create, protect and maintain stability while taking risks, questioning the status quo, and stimulating growth and change.

Court managers who are also proactive leaders in their courts must draw upon a variety of competencies, which they will likely develop over time as their experience and perspective mature. Paramount among these are:

  • Providing vision with a focus: Leaders create vision; establish action plans that support this vision; and, with the help of others, clearly communicate the roles of departments and individuals in attaining the vision.   Leaders think in the long term and focus their own efforts and the efforts of others on core court purposes and the need to transition from the present to an inspired future.
  • Anticipating developments that will affect court operations and decision-making interdependencies with other justice organizations, the private bar, and other constituent groups: The environment in which courts operate is always changing, as a result of changing law enforcement priorities, prosecutorial policies, statutory changes, fiscal and other resources, demographics and many other factors. Court managers who are leaders in their respective courts must be competent in identifying the myriad of factors that will influence the court’s operations and services, anticipate the changes that will potentially occur, and plan for them.[1]
  • Proficiency in diagnosis and analysis: Court managers who provide proactive leadership for their courts must develop competency in measuring the court’s progress toward stated goals and meeting the needs and expectations of the public and regular court users, translating the results of this analysis into a plan for the future.
  • Effectively carrying out the court’s mission: Court leaders are dedicated to inspiring, preparing, supporting and guiding the court’s organization and people to achieve the all-important purposes of the judiciary. They are focused on insuring citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, that each case receives individual justice, that procedural due process is honored, and our society’s rule of law is preserved and enhanced.


[1] See Creating a Strategic Vision for the Court

Strategic Planning

A court leader often provides leadership for the court. In doing so, the court leader should develop and promote a strategic vision for the organization by establishing a strategic course for an organization, communicating that direction to internal and external stakeholders and engaging them to work collaboratively toward achieving the organization's mission.


The court leader not only manages the court but also must provide “leadership.” Whereas management is primarily about directing how the organization accomplishes its mission, leadership is about establishing a strategic course for an organization, communicating that direction to internal and external stakeholders and engaging them to work collaboratively toward achieving the organization’s mission. Effective court leadership is exemplified through strategic thinking, planning and action–all of which are critical components for the creation of a vision and plan to lead the court.

To fulfill this role, the court leader needs to focus on creating and sustaining a strategic vision for the court. This requires the court leader to demonstrate creativity, stamina, drive, conceptual and analytic skills as well as the ability to execute. A court leader who is competent in these areas is well-position to work as a leadership partner with judicial officers, to assess and respond to trends, to promote overall court capacity, and to guide the court in achieving its mission.


Court leaders who play a role in creating a strategic vision for the courts they serve should work, to the extent feasible, be able to competently:

  • Create a Strategic Orientation — The manager/leader must be able to create and use a strategic plan as a critical tool to guide the court in planning for and implementing the capabilities needed for the future. This orientation requires the development of long-term goals and objectives as well as short-term and intermediate standards. The court leader should have a commitment to the future of the organization, rather than merely the daily routine, particularly given the relatively short terms for many chief or presiding judges. The court leader must also serve as an agent for change, guiding the court to plan for the future based on critical analysis of current data and trends.
  • Use a System Wide Outlook — The court leader must think in terms of the court system, not one particular aspect of it. The strategic plan and vision for the court needs to take into account the interdependencies and complexities that impact the court in terms of demographics, crime trends, fiscal and other realities and related factors. The court leader must also demonstrate skill in incorporating the court’s planning and vision into the broader context in which the court functions.
  • Serve as a Consensus Builder and Collaborator — The court leader needs to be able to develop and build group consensus, inspire trust, and generate support from all justice system participants.  Also, the court leaders should develop plans that can be implemented through consensus and foster a shared vision for the future.
  • Be an Innovator and Risk Taker — Creating a vision for the future requires the court leader to attempt new initiatives, including those that test new ideas and theories.
  • Create a culture in the court that values critical thinking and planning.
  • Institutionalize a strategic planning process that is ongoing, revisited with regularity and monitored on a periodic basis, taking into account major trends affecting society and the courts.
  • Communicate and Educate – Use orientation and continuing judicial branch education to communicate, educate and thus advance the values and vision of the court.
  • Ensure that leadership and management actions are adjusted as necessary with the court’s strategic vision and plan, ensuring successful execution and follow-through on strategic priorities.
  • Maintain a local justice-planning network with continuous and effective working relationships with all justice system stakeholders.

Court Governance

A court leader needs to be able to manage court operations with consistency and predictability, by providing the guidance and policies for both day-to-day operations and long-term decisions. To do this, the court leader will need to develop and maintain an effective governance structure for the court.


One of the more challenging responsibilities of a court leader is developing and maintaining an effective governance structure for the court. The governance structure provides the framework for the court leader to manage court operations with consistency and predictability, by providing the guidance and policies for both day-to-day operations and long-term decisions. A well-developed and effective governance structure should include a set of rules and responsibilities that gives individuals and/or groups of individuals in supervisory/management roles the authority to make binding decisions regarding the organization’s policies, directions and strategies. In developing an effective structure, the court leader will need to ensure that the structure:

  • Upholds the principles of judicial independence, fiscal responsibility and procedural justice.
  • Encourages consistency, predictability and integrity in leadership actions.
  • Promotes a collaborative, strategic partnership between the presiding/administrative judge and court administrator.
  • Promotes participation and consensus building either directly or through representatives of the organization. (On a statewide level this is most often accomplished by a judicial council for state courts; in an urban trial court it may be achieved by a judicial executive committee; for courts with federal jurisdiction, generally by the Judicial Council of the United States, with implementation support provided by the United States Administrative Office of the Courts; for tribal courts, governance is generally determined by the tribal government.)
  • Adheres to the highest ethical standards of the justice system.
  • Fosters positive morale among court personnel.

Because there is wide variation in complexity and organizational structures among courts, developing and maintaining constructive governance mechanisms can be a daunting task for a court leader. Some states have multiple layers of courts, a variety of elected officials and short tenures for leadership judges and funding authorities at various levels. The court leader needs to be aware of and account for all of the complexity of their court when developing the governance structure. In addition, the court leader needs to ensure the structure adheres to ethical standards in all aspects of court operations.

Courts must be fair and impartial, and they must be perceived as such. The court leader’s role is to promote clearly articulated policies, procedures, responsibilities and decision making processes applicable to all aspects of court operations to foster transparency, accountability and open communication. The court leader must also work to cultivate and sustain a governance structure that promotes the principles of independence, for both the court and the individual judges deciding cases, even as they simultaneously work to advance relationships with others throughout the government and community.


Although the efforts of a court leader to promote and sustain an effective governance structure in the court will necessarily be dictated by the organizational and jurisdictional context in which he/she works, the court leader should demonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • Work with Judicial System Officials and Others to Uphold the Principles of Judicial Independence, Fiscal Responsibility and Procedural Justice — As addressed in other Competencies, 17 the court leader must demonstrate skills in developing and monitoring its policies, procedures and practices, as relevant, to ensure the court operates in a manner that is not only fair and impartial but is perceived as such. Further, operational practices should follow established and clearly articulated policies and procedures.
  • Promote Consistency, Predictability and Integrity in all Aspects of the Court’s Operation — Regardless of specific court function, the court leader should develop skills necessary to promote consistency, predictability and integrity in all aspects of the court’s operations, compliance with applicable canons of ethics and procedural fairness and promote the purposes and responsibilities for which courts have been established. 18* *
  • Encourage a Collaborative, Strategic Partnership Between Court Management Staff and Judicial Leadership — The ideal partnership between court management and judicial leadership has long been characterized by the court “Executive Team” concept, which requires skill in nurturing and fostering clear roles, defined responsibilities, ongoing access to each other and a shared vision. The administrative judge clearly carries the command prerogative; the court leader is a strategic advisor — a colleague in top-level decision-making — often with additional prescribed management duties outlined in statute, rule, administrative order or custom. The majority of administrative judges also have limited tenure in their positions, often appointed by a supreme court, an executive or legislative body or elected by their colleagues. The court leader, therefore, serves as the link in the governance structure, working with a variety of leadership judges during his or her career.
  • Promote Participation and Consensus Building within the Organization — To sustain a court’s governance structure, the court leader should be able to share information constructively with all members of the court organization and to offer straight–forward performance feedback. The court leader should foster an atmosphere of open communication within the organization by making it clear to employees how decisions are made as well as their value to organization.  In doing this, the court leader should articulate each individual’s role in carrying out the court’s purposes and responsibilities as well as the policies and practices developed to fulfill them.
  • Foster Positive Morale and a Productive, Engaged Workforce — An effective governance structure provides the foundation for a productive workforce, with lines of authority, responsibilities, decision-making processes and related administrative practices that are clearly articulated and transparent. To build upon this structure, the court leader needs to demonstrate skills in fostering positive morale in the court and promoting organization-wide understanding of and respect for the role that each member of the workforce plays in carrying out the court’s purposes and responsibilities. 19 These skills should focus on promoting productivity, collegiality and positive motivation among the court workforce, inspiring excellent performance and valuing innovation.
  • Promote the Rule of Law and Judicial Independence — Maintaining the rule of law and judicial independence requires an infrastructure that provides for the impartial and timely resolution of disputes. The court is not an ancillary department of government but, rather, a co-equal branch of government whose functions cannot be dispensed when government resources are unduly limited. As such, the court leader must strive for competency in all of the areas needed to promote the stable operation of the court.
  • Promote Consistency, Predictability and Integrity in Management Roles and Responsibilities — *An effective governance structure provides the foundation for consistency, predictability and accountability in all aspects of the court’s operation. *Although functions and authority may vary, the court leader should work within the limits of his//her authority to promote consistency, predictability, timeliness and accountability in the work of the court they serve. Where these provisions are either inadequate or don’t exist, the court leader should identify policies and procedures that will remedy the situation.
  • Ensure Ethical Conduct — Recognizing the wide scope of potential ethical issues that can arise affecting the integrity of the court process and image of the court system, the court leader needs to develop the ability to identify and promptly address key problems. These may entail the conduct of court staff, attorneys, judges, as well as the integrity of the court process. The court leader should demonstrate competencies in understanding the ethical standards that apply to the court process and its participants (e.g., judges, attorney, court staff, jurors, witnesses and others). It is equally important that the court leader understand how and when to promptly address ethical violations.