Printed on: May 09, 2021
The National Association for Court Management has over 1,700 members from the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries. NACM is the largest organization of court management professionals in the world with members from all levels and types of courts.
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.
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:
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:
The longstanding and widely accepted “purposes of courts” in carrying out these responsibilities are the following: 2
Over time, these fundamental purposes of the courts expanded to include other areas of emphasis, including the following:
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:
Recognizing that court leaders perform diverse functions in an array of environments, the following are goals that court professionals should aspire to meet:
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 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:
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:
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 –
Programs and Special Services –
Access and Direct Services –
Infrastructure and Support –
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Court leaders who are effective at measuring and managing performance should be able to:
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.
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. Effective court leadership delivers on these promises through a well-defined and fully operational governance structure.
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.” 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.” 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 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. 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.
 Link to Purposes and Responsibilities
 Link to Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure
 Cite to Warren Bennis
 James MacGregor Burns in Leadership
 See also Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure
 Link to Ibid.
 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:
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:
 See Creating a Strategic Vision for the Court
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:
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:
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:
The process for updating the original guiding principles of the organization was robust and involved the contributions of many individuals, associations, and organizations that work with court professionals. At the outset of the project, NACM recognized the need for a comprehensive and inclusive process that involved surveys of the NACM members to offer their insight about what was useful about the original Competencies, how easy the Competencies were to access and understand, and what improvements were needed. We would like to thank all of our members for providing input and participating in the survey.
We would also like to recognize the contributions of many court leaders and professionals working with the courts during the review process. These individuals served on several different committees that were charged with providing comment about different aspects of the Competencies and developing the new Core system for educating and promoting the profession. The committees included a Structural Review Committee that examined the overall structure of the competencies, identifying areas of redundancy and gaps; a Content Review Committee that focused on the currency and relevance of the original competencies; and an Advisory Committee that provided input on both structure and content as well as ways in which the competencies are used in the field and by other associations and organizations to provide educational programming for court leaders.
With the abundant feedback and input, NACM began the actual revision of the competencies. The new Core system is the product of extensive work by individuals who worked in small groups to draft new competency areas and to update existing competencies.
© 2021 National Association for Court Management.