Last week I was at the annual NACM education conference, and, as usual, enjoyed attending the excellent program, networking with a multitude of colleagues, perusing the booths at the exhibit show, and having a good time in Atlanta. Here are some things I learned along the way that I think are worth sharing:
- Many of us are pretty skeptical of all things “mindful,” considering this to be a bit of a fad. When I saw that the conference theme was “Mind the Gap: The Power of Active Engagement,” I was not very enthused. But, the theme was carried out well and refreshed for me the importance of being mindful personally and professionally.
- The opening plenary session with Janice Marturano, for example, was specifically about mindful leadership and outlined practical things we can do to train our mind to be better (we also were each given the speaker’s book, Finding the Space to Lead). I have even signed up to receive the Institute for Mindful Leadership’s monthly newsletter (to do so easily, text IML to 22828)!
- Another fine plenary session was entitled “Being Mindful of Our Most Important Resource: Our People.” Judge Shaun Floerke gave us practical advice on how to take care of yourself and others: moderate stress, ask for help when you need it, make a plan, eat right and sleep well, beware of substance abuse (including coffee!), exercise regularly, laugh and engage in positive emotions, and have meaning in your life. In addition, create/work in safe environments, foster peer support and collaboration, and empower & give people voice to achieve connection among everyone on your teams.
- A really interesting and unusual plenary session was presented by Amy Herman, “The Art of Perception: Rethinking How We See.” Amy literally opened everyone’s eyes to the world around us. Using examples of works of art, we honed our visual intelligence to improve decision making by applying the four A’s : Assess, Analyze, Articulate, and Adapt-Act. I was so impressed I attended the follow up breakout session and bought the book: Visual Intelligence, Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.
- One area of emphasis in the program was improving access to justice. I attended several great sessions in this area:
- A major key is to make what we do in the courts more trustworthy so the public will want to use us to resolve disputes, etc. Improving public engagement via better forms, simpler language, visual information, bullet lists, electronic services, etc., are important (particularly for self-represented litigants). The Harvard Access to Justice (A2J) Lab reported on a project that is showing dramatically improved results via these methods.
- The Tuesday morning plenary session was all about Procedural Justice. When we treat litigants, attorneys, the public, and everyone else with respect, neutrality, understanding, and give them a voice in matters that impact them, we do a much better job of increasing public trust and achieve a much higher perception of fairness in what we do. Trust must be earned in every encounter, and how we are perceived is critical.
- Partnering with colleges and universities, particularly in access to justice projects and research, was the theme of another plenary session. How about using students for data collection and analysis, or even as volunteer staff in self-help centers?
- The application of advanced technology to improve access to justice was a common thread. The use of online dispute resolution (ODR), systems to make making payments very easy (online, and even at many nationwide stores), e-filing (even mandatorily for SRL’s), and the application of artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of many processes can greatly improve access to justice in our courts.
- Expanding on the topic of artificial intelligence, there was a specific session on the use of AI in the courts, presented by Alan Carlson. As promised in my last Vantage Point post, I attended and learned a lot. In particular, although AI has tremendous potential, we must be very concerned about several major risk areas: bias inherent in and gaps or limitations in the training data set, “black box” problems, ill-defined or mis-application of goals or tools, loss of user privacy, and undefined accountability in the use of tools. Thankfully, methods to mitigate each of these problems were also presented. There are many areas in which courts can and are using AI, but extreme care must be used before implementing AI-enabled applications (for detailed information, read more at https://courtleader.net/2018/07/21/using-artificial-intelligence-and-big-data-to-develop-tools-used-in-courts-2/).
- I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend many other worthwhile sessions, ranging from managing a multi-generational workforce, competency-based training, court security planning, creating court podcasts, aligning shifting workloads, and managing digital evidence. Fortunately, NACM webcasts and records many sessions (including several described above) and will be posting them soon on its website and on its YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/NACMNET). I will be viewing some of them, and I encourage you to do the same. In addition, look for session summaries soon here on Court Leader of presentations made by our contributors Janet Cornell and Peter Kiefer: High Performance for Active Engagement, and Gaps in Ethical Court Administration.
- The exhibit show hall was crammed with booths again this year. Lots of vendors in the areas of: case management, jury, financial, debt collection, space/architecture, e-filing, ODR, and more. One booth caught my eye with this title: “AnimalCourts.Com, the Original Defensive Driving Class…for Pet Owners!” Intrigued, I stepped up and chatted with the folks. Basically, this Georgia company has a diversion alternative to the traditional penalties of fines, fees, and jail time for animal and pet cases, violations, and claims. Quite the niche product, but if effective, could be a great tool for courts with such jurisdictions.
- The NACM International Committee meeting was very interesting and productive this year. For example, Jeff Apperson, NCSC VP for International Programs, shared his thoughts on areas where NACM can be more involved in international rule of law efforts. We will be exploring the enhancement of “partnering” between NACM and international projects in the future. Also, the continued collaboration of NACM and IACA was discussed, with further work on this at the upcoming IACA international conference in Brazil in September.
- NACM is doing great things. President Vicky Carlson gave a “State of the Association” speech that reviewed everything NACM is doing to advance our profession. The speech will undoubtedly be published in an upcoming Court Manager journal – check it out if you weren’t there.
- On a fun note, the Georgia Aquarium where we had an evening social event is really wonderful (whale sharks!). So is the Ponce City Market (wow, what a great food hall and shops) and Poor Calvin’s Restaurant, where I ate an incredible meal.
Summing it all up, I had a wonderful time. Seeing hundreds of good friends, meeting and connecting with new people, and learning a lot from the education program left me with lots of ideas and many areas to follow up on (like write this blog post). I hope to see you at a future NACM conference – it is definitely worth your time.