Court Community Communication

Curriculum Guidelines Summary

What Court Leaders Need to Know and Be Able to Do

The Court Community Communication Competency includes six areas of competency

Purpose and Communication Fundamentals

Effective court executive leadership teams develop and improve communication channels between the courts and the public to advance court purposes and responsibilities.  They engender accurate understandings and positive perceptions about the courts.  If this goal is accomplished, public trust and confidence will improve and, very importantly, court operations will improve.

To achieve this, court leaders must master six communication fundamentals essential to effective communication -- both verbally and in writing.  The six fundamentals that enable court leaders to construct and carry out effective court community communication are: 1) positive messages, 2) credibility, 3) honesty, 4) accessibility, 5) openness, and 6) understandability.

Understandable Courts

Although most of the population never has personal contact with the court system, most, but not all, national and state surveys indicate that more citizens who have been to court have more negative opinions of courts and the judicial process than those who have not actually been to court as litigants, witnesses, or jurors.

Courts have not historically been user-friendly and are still too often cloaked in mystery for the average person.  Unduly complicated courts confound the public.   Mysterious court processes and terminology make courts difficult to understand and to access, use, and navigate.

Court leaders must assess their courts and ensure that processes are understandable and useable for the public from the self-represented to witnesses and jurors, to court watchers, and to represented parties.  Beyond common courtesy and good customer service, tools include technology and modern multimedia techniques to make the courts more understandable, accessible, and easy to use.  With the growth of self-represented litigants, particularly, but not exclusively, in family law matters, these tools help both litigants and the court.

Community Outreach

Community outreach allows court leaders to understand the needs and perceptions of the communities they serve.  Courts need community outreach programs to learn how courts can better serve their communities and to reach distinct segments of the public.  Public input is vital to effective community outreach.  Communication must be two-way.

Good community outreach educates the public and informs the court about community concerns and  insights into  how the court can be improved.  It takes both good teaching and listening skills to make community outreach programming into the two-way communications’ street that it must be.

Public Information

Court public information is the amalgamation of various communication skills such as media relations, public relations, legislative relations, and overall community education.  This is more than “media relations.”  Courts must formulate and deliver positive information about courts.

Court leaders, who are successful communicators with various public audiences, have the ability to assess what information needs to be conveyed to what specific audience(s) and how it can be delivered.  This information may take a general public education format or be tailored to advance legislative and other purposes.

Effective public information managers are masters at multi-tasking and able to communicate with diverse audiences.  They respond to crises and plan and communicate proactively.

The Media and Media Relations

Court leaders must understand the news media and have productive relationships with reporters, editors, and news officials.  They must respond appropriately to news inquires, generate constructive news coverage, use the media as an educational tool, and communicate with and without reporters through the print and broadcast media.

Effective court leaders neither fear the media nor take a reactive posture.  Instead, they plan and are skilled and confident in their media relation’s abilities.  They develop and effectuate proactive media relations plans.  Court messages must be informative, accurate, and consistent, as well as positive.

Leadership and Program Management

Effective court community communications is much more likely in a well-managed than a poorly managed or mediocre court.  When affordable in large courts, public information professionals are invaluable.  However, court leaders or staff they assign who have other responsibilities must lead, oversee, and deliver community communication in most jurisdictions.  Those in charge ensure that their own and others roles as spokespersons for the court are clearly defined.  Within a cohesive, well-managed court, court leaders aided by staff assess court community communication needs and prioritize and organize programs to meet general and specific needs.  Needs include information related to domestic violence, divorce, and landlord tenant cases.

Court executive leadership teams evaluate court community communication against clear objectives.  With the help of court staff, other justice system leaders, and the public, they determine if their messages are reaching the desired audiences.   Changes to the message and who delivers it are made when necessary.

click on each of the six Curriculum Guidelines to see the associated Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:

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