The Philadelphia Experiment in Civil Case Management - Journey from Disaster to Model Court
AuthorRau, Lisa M.
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In a 1995 study of the 45 largest urban state trial courts in the country, Philadelphia’s state trial court was ranked as the 2nd worst jurisdiction for the length of time it took a case to get concluded. Philadelphia’s Court leaders undertook to transform the culture of the court by implementing intensive case management. Within 3 years they eliminated the backlog. By 2004, a National Center for State Courts (NCSC) study concluded that the Philadelphia Court’s civil case management system had resulted in “arguably the best-managed large urban civil trial court operation in the nation.” Today, the Philadelphia’s Court meets the ABA guidelines of resolving cases within 2 years of filing. This thesis describes how the Philadelphia Court accomplished such major change within its limited financial and staffing constraints and in the face of major resistance. The research was conducted by interviewing major players who were involved in transforming the Philadelphia Court to determine what exactly was done and to gain their insight as to what key factors played a role in transforming the culture of Philadelphia’s civil court system to one of efficiency, transparency, and predictability. Philadelphia Court’s leaders implemented a case management system that included a judicial team structure, streamlined motion and discovery procedures, mandatory mediation conducted by volunteer lawyers, and a trial scheduling system that was predictable and responsive to last minute settlements. Those interviewed identified five factors that contributed to the successful cultural transformation: education and communication, leadership, planning and preparation through interdisciplinary collaboration, technology, clear and transparent structure, and ongoing evaluation. Philadelphia’s Court system’s renewed ability to timely and efficiently resolve civil disputes not only eliminated the logistical problems of backlogged cases but enhanced its legitimacy within the community as a source of substantive, procedural, and therapeutic justice.
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