Human Resources Management

What This Core Competency Is and Why It Is Important

Courts need good people, people who are competent, up-to-date, professional, ethical, and committed.  High-performing courts get the very best from their judges and employees no matter what their particular assignment or job.  As courts carry out recruitment, selection, employee relations, job analysis, job evaluation, and position classification; the administration of pay and benefits; and performance management, they demonstrate what the court believes in, its values, and its standards.  The aim is not good Human Resources Management in an otherwise mediocre court.  It is a high-performance court.

Court leaders set the right tone for Human Resources when their management of the court is cohesive and strategic.  The connection between caseflow management; education, training, and development; budgeting and finance; information technology; and human resources is seamless.

Like almost every other private and public sector organization, courts dedicate most of their budget to salaries and benefits.  But the services their judges and employees provide -- on the telephone, at the counter and the bar of the court, and from the bench -- differ from other organizations.  The courts’ business is equal justice under law, due process, equal access, and independent and impartial treatment and decisions.

Because impartiality and independence are core court values, Human Resources Management must be fair and objective.  The right people are hired, developed, and promoted.  When mistakes are made they are corrected.  Human Resources staff is professional, accountable, and recognized as vital to the court’s mission.

Judicial independence rightly drives court Human Resources Management philosophy, structure, and decisions.  In the words of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78: “ … there is no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”  While courts, either independently (primarily locally funded), or as a state funded system, seek and obtain resources from the other branches, court Human Resources must be under court control and independent in philosophy, form, and practice.

Achieving independence is not easy.  Most courts are small employers relative to employers generally and other governmental units in particular.  Many trial courts employ fewer than 20 people.  Excluding large metropolitan areas, courts typically employ 100 or fewer people with most having no more than 300 employees.

Due to their small size, court human resources staff are often co-located with other units of government and even included in other’s budgets.  This can cause others to view courts as “just another department” with court human resources staff, policies, procedures, and practices that should be the same as “other departments.”  Undue deference to the executive branch personnel system can have negative consequences.  For example, court staff must both support and appear to support independent and impartial processes and decision making.  The court must have flexibility to adjust work schedules of courtroom personnel who sometimes must work outside normal working hours due to trials or other court events, without incurring unnecessary overtime or compensatory time obligations.  Whatever the arrangement designed to recruit, select and hire, evaluate, pay, reward, develop, and manage judicial staff, the judiciary must lead and, to a significant extent, control its Human Resources function or risk its independence, image, and effectiveness.

Changing environmental factors and a changing labor pool likewise challenge courts and their leaders.  Current trends include an aging labor force, younger workers with different values and expectations, more women, more racial and ethnic “minorities,” more immigrants, and more diverse life styles.  Challenging issues include telecommuting, benefits, work rules, work schedules, competing with other employers, both public and private, and leadership practices.  Environmental factors, a changing labor force, and public demands for accountability challenge courts and their leaders and mandate a sense of urgency about court Human Resources practices.  But the court culture is usually quite conservative.  The top court professionals, judges, speak and dress in ways that are staid, mannered, and unmistakably traditional, but the issues they address are complex, dynamic, and challenging. Who gets custody?  How do we balance public safety against the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt?  A rightly conservative culture need not produce unresponsive judicial decisions or tired court management and human resources practices.  Waiting for difficult environmental and workforce issues to go away was never appropriate; now it is untenable.

Court Human Resources Management must be dignified but not stodgy, proper but also energetic, and correct but also creative.  The highest quality service providers, whether they are in the private sector (current examples include Nordstrom and Wal-Mart) or in the public sector, set the standard by which court services ought to be measured.  Recruitment; selection; education, training, and development; and fairness must be equal to or better than all other employers, both public and private. The court should be a model employer.

Effective Human Resources Management not only enables performance but also increases morale, employee perceptions of fairness, and self-worth. People who work in the courts are special.  Their jobs and the work of the courts are not too small for the human spirit.  With proper leadership, court Human Resources Management contributes to meaning and pride over and beyond the reward of a paycheck. It reflects the enduring purposes and responsibilities of courts.

View the Summary of Human Resources Management Curriculum Guidelines or click on each of the four Curriculum Guidelines to see the associated Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:

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