How do you change the deeply ingrained culture of the American civil justice system? According to Rebecca Love Kourlis by: polling the American public; engaging in focus groups and conversations with judges, lawyers, and court administrators; and reporting the results.
Ms. Kourlis is a former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and current executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). She recently wrote an article for The New Normal section of the abajournal.com titled “10 ways to reform the civil justice system by changing the culture of the courts.” In it she cites to a survey that quantifies the public’s perception of the courts:
Americans believe that the courts are political (61 percent), inefficient (52 percent), and intimidating (44 percent). As a result, courts are seen as a last resort rather than a preferred method of resolving disputes (54 percent).
She further distills the results of the focus group conversations into the following ten action items:
1. We need go back to our professional roots. Law needs to be a civil and collegial profession first and foremost. . . .
2. We need to be guided by justice. The focus should be on justice, not on winning at any cost. . . .
3. We need to dig deep, earlier. Lawyers need to develop deep understandings of their cases early in the process and purposefully tailor plans for those cases rather than conduct rote discovery and motions practice and allow plans to emerge over time.
4. We need a new approach to discovery. Most of the surveys across the country identify abusive discovery as one of the primary sources of burgeoning costs. . . . We need to eliminate “scorched earth discovery,” or discovery as a tool of gamesmanship.
5. We need engaged judges. Judges need to be engaged, accessible, and guided by service. . . . Discovery motions should be resolved simply and quickly; dispositive motions should not be allowed to languish; and continuances of deadlines or court dates should be a rarity.
6. We need courts to take ownership. The courts need to be accessible, relevant, available to serve, and responsible for providing procedural fairness in every case. . . .
7. We need efficiency up the court ladder. We need to use everyone within the court structure more effectively and efficiently. . . .
8. We need smart use of technology. We need to use technology for efficiency, effectiveness, and clarity—in the courts, in law practice, and in ensuring that the system is accessible for nonlawyers. . . .
9. We need to value our court system. As lawyers and judges, we need to fight for appropriate budgets for the courts and fight to defend the courts. . . .
10. We need to realign incentives. We need to focus on the incentives driving lawyers and judges and work to align them with our goals for improvement of the system as a whole. . . .
LPR applauds Ms. Kourlis and IAALS for their work to reform the civil justice system. We hope judges, lawyers and court administrators across the country take heed.