Last week I attended the annual conference of the National Association for Court Management (NACM) in Las Vegas. Once again it was a great experience, filled with wonderful education sessions as well as meeting and networking with colleagues, and a bit of fun on the side.

Here are a few things I learned during the conference:

  • The opening plenary session reaffirmed the importance of “Bridging the Gap With the People We Serve,” emphasizing the building of trust (in our communities and with the people we interact with at the court), building empathy, communicating effectively via active listening, and being dependable in all our actions.
  • The Alaska courts are developing an impressive online portal aimed at self-represented litigants; it is called Legal Navigator. It will use an artificial intelligence component to tailor results to specific situations, along with linking up a wide variety of justice sector providers. The pilot is designed for nationwide replication.
  • There are a lot of efforts inside and outside of courts nationwide to deal with the opioid use crisis. We heard from experts and judicial leaders who educated us about the facts and what the courts can and should be doing regarding opioid use disorder. I personally loved seeing the leadership of Chief Justice Judith Nakamura of New Mexico on this subject (she’s my home Chief Justice!).
  • NACM President Paul DeLosh gave a wonderful “State of the Profession” speech in which he outlined the significant issues facing our courts and what NACM is doing to improve the administration of justice. Along with its ongoing great education conferences, publications, and webinars, NACM is now partnering with Court Leader on excellent podcasts – here is the URL for the latest edition: https://courtleader.net/2019/07/28/held-for-ransom-how-safe-is-your-data/.
  • The opening plenary on Tuesday was on an excellent topic, Online Dispute Resolution. ODR is steadily spreading to many more courts, and I think a high percentage of courts worldwide should consider implementing ODR in the future. Unfortunately, this session was sponsored and run by a vendor, which gives the appearance of an infomercial for its ODR product. NACM should not be allowing sponsored plenary sessions like this which may give the impression of its endorsement of a commercial product.
  • Perhaps the session with the most impact on the group was “Cybersecurity and the Dark Web” plenary and follow up breakout session. Using lots of practical examples, the speaker opened our eyes to quite a few things we need to be very concerned about. These ranged from “never use public WiFi unless you are using a VPN” to the increasing sophistication of phishing attacks to the increasing number of ransomware attacks. There is no such thing as perfect security – it’s all about balancing risks. Hackers need our help, however, as we trade convenience for security.
  • Once again, our CCPIO colleagues did a great job of presenting how to effectively interact with the news media, use social media, and other best practices in court communication. The session was based on the NACM Core, where one can see the details: https://nacmcore.org/competency/public-relations/.
  • The conference exhibition show by various vendors was wide-ranging, as usual. One vendor impressed me with a major product that resides completely in the cloud, on a subscription basis (on the other hand, I’ve got a lot of questions about security and ownership of data). Another vendor showed how ODR can be effectively integrated into various CMS applications (is vendor agnostic, in other words).
  • NACM is using a very effective app on our mobile devices to give attendees all the information and interactivity they need to attend conferences. It was nice to be able to quickly check the schedule, get announcements, send messages to other attendees, look at speaker bios, etc.
  • The NACM Award of Merit was presented to Mark Weinberg, while the Perkins Award went to Kent Pankey. The NCSC’s Warren Burger Award was given to Maureen Conner. All absolutely well deserved!
  • Thursday morning, the conference ended with two very good plenary sessions:
    1. “Key Words that Enhance Your Effectiveness” was based on neuroscience principles and showed how individual words and phrases set off often adverse reactions when we communicate. The speaker used humor to give specific advice on what words to avoid and words to use to increase trust.
    2. “How to Find the Courage to Keep Going” was an inspirational closing session. Through a series of personal examples, the speaker challenged us to face our fears, leverage our strengths, and find community as we build our courage to overcome obstacles. Here are a few tips:
      • Take a look at yourself and see what’s holding you back;
      • Take a look at who needs you to succeed/is counting on you;
      • Take a look at what you’ve been ignoring or avoiding;
      • Then, use that information to plan on and move forward by taking small steps to increase your courage to, as Mary Ann Radmacher says, “try again tomorrow.”

This year I made a presentation entitled “Staff Performance Appraisals are Terrible – We Can do Better!” The session was partially based on three Vantage Point blog posts I made last year, starting with https://courtleader.net/2018/03/28/why-are-most-employee-performance-evaluation-systems-terrible/. Key points: we try to serve too many functions with appraisals; we need to concentrate on individual coaching and development; multi-level rating scales are counterproductive; and fostering employee engagement is critical to help staff thrive and excel.

There was a so much more at the conference, including sessions I did not attend but looked terrific, the social events, and trying to cope with the intense heat if one left the hotel to sample the famous Las Vegas attractions (nevertheless, the Bellagio fountains were absolutely beautiful). FYI, the live-streamed conference sessions will be posted to the NACM website soon, so even if you didn’t attend, you can still see many of the presentations, including all of the plenaries – I know I will be doing that for a couple of sessions I missed.

Congratulations to new NACM President Will Simmons. Here is a link to his message to the membership: https://nacmnet.org/who-we-are/leadership/presidents-message/.

I encourage everyone to attend a future NACM conference. It’s a great way to expand your knowledge and grow as a court professional, as well as network with a wonderful group of court leaders. The 2020 Midyear will be in Charlotte in February, and the Annual will be in New Orleans in July.

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