Court Administration

History of Court Administration  

A heightened awareness in the early 1970s of the need for professional management to direct the multi-faceted operations of courts has resulted in the profession of court administration. Over the years, court administrators have become an integral part of judicial management because the effectiveness of the judiciary resides in organizational competence. Courts must keep pace with increasingly complex caseloads and the increasing focus on the performance of the judicial system. The ability to address those and other challenges requires effective management by judges within the courtroom as well as by administrators outside of it. In August 1969, soon after he became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Warren E. Burger observed, “The courts of this country need management, which busy and overworked judges, with drastically increased caseloads, cannot give. We need a corps of trained administrators or managers to manage and direct the machinery so that judges can concentrate on their primary duty of judging…” As a result of Chief Justice Burger’s efforts, and those of other leaders in the field, court administrators have become an essential part of the federal, state, and local courts.

Why Court Administration?

The field of court administration emanated from the growing need to professionally manage internal operations, deal with organizational system complexity, large workloads and volumes, and ever-increasing expectations for organizational performance and accountability. Court administrators ensure that those ever-increasing expectations are valued and demonstrated not only for the benefit of those external to the organization but also for those within it. Professional court administrators may have a variety of working titles including: court or district administrator, court executive, court manager, court executive director, clerk of court, chief administrator, or court director. Professionally educated and trained administrators – thoroughly disciplined in judicial procedures and modern administrative practices, whether in practice or through universities – provide court systems with the administrative competence courts traditionally have lacked and needed. The administrator’s primary role is to facilitate the administrative functions of the court under the general guidance of their chief judge. Together, they provide the court with an executive leadership team capable of confronting issues, dealing with increased complexity, and addressing the necessity of change and innovation that characterize a modern and evolving court system. Court administrators also fulfill roles as supervisors, managers, or leaders and each role serves a different purpose:

  • Supervision, perhaps the most narrow of the roles, is the function of watching and directing a set of activities and actions, essentially providing oversight to the activity.
  • Management involves coordinating the work, actions, and efforts of people to accomplish, or in support of, defined goals and objectives.
  • Leadership involves higher level, and more complex, functions such as establishing a vision, promoting and sharing the vision and goals, and then providing support via information, knowledge and methods to realize the vision. It also involves skill in anticipating or keeping current on emerging challenges, trends, and proficiencies within a profession.

At any given time, a court administrator may provide supervision, management, or leadership. It is leadership however, that is the hallmark of the modern court administrator. These leadership abilities allow the court administrator to effectively partner with the chief judge and all judges as well as their staff, to respond to the growing demands upon a court and the increasing expectations for performance. Court administrators may also be called upon to be innovators, “out of the box” thinkers, change agents, or even entrepreneurs. The duties of court administrators vary, depending on the jurisdiction, location, size of the court, and perhaps the particular focus of the court or division in which they are employed. The court administrator typically functions in administrative areas, rather than legal areas, and therefore requires similar specialized skills as any professional position with managerial responsibility.

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