Can you tell us a bit about the Judicial Institute’s background, its mission, and what the Judicial Institute does for Trial Court employees and judges?

The JI, established by statute in 1988, provides Trial Court judges and court staff with educational resources, skills training, and professional development programs that explore legal, procedural and social issues that affect the court.

The JI operates on the evidence-based theory that continuing professional development throughout one’s career is critical to improving morale, communication, performance, and the administration of justice. Our mission is also based on the principle that professional education is ongoing, and can result in a more satisfying and successful career.  

But the JI's mission encompasses more than training programs. It embodies a commitment to improve the court’s ability to respond to change in any number of developing areas, including technology, work environment, policy, procedure and new statutory requirements.


Talk about some of the challenges you face trying to connect with so many people across such a large, complex organization.

We’re constantly looking at new and different ways to increase opportunities for everyone throughout the organization to develop skills and get the training they need to perform their duties at full capacity. One of the key goals of the Strategic Plan is to support a high-performing organization with a well-trained, engaged, collaborative and diverse workforce. Education plays a key role in achieving this.

Training and cross-training are conducted every day in our court divisions at the local level. Local training plays a critical role in advancing the court’s mission. And the demand for training – and classroom space – is growing as the system gears up to provide training and development for Local 6 members, who will be required to participate in 22.5 hours of training per year, starting next fiscal year.


How do you know what training programs are happening out in the local courts?

For the first time the Trial Court is making a concerted effort to determine exactly the types and amount of training going on throughout the organization. Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence designated the JI as the “central station” to collect and collate this information. They have asked the Chief Justices, Deputy Court Administrators, judges, and managers in the field to ensure that a PDE (Professional Development Event) form is completed for every training event in their departments and offices. Generally speaking, a training or educational event is one in which 10 or more people participate.  


What can individual court employees do to be more proactive about their training; and/or to manage their careers more effectively?

Seek out opportunities to participate in training and continuing education programs offered by the JI and other organizations. Let your supervisor know what types of learning opportunities interest you. Think creatively. Ask for and create cross-training opportunities. Offer to teach others the skills that you have mastered. Propose local education initiatives that the JI can help support. You can also broaden your experience by spending time in the courtroom and in offices that you otherwise aren’t assigned to. Volunteer to sit on committees and get involved in providing training to new employees. There are many ways to create growth opportunities, and creativity goes a long way. Be flexible. I also think the new performance appraisal process – something managers are now focused on – will lead to more regular conversations about opportunities for professional development.


What types of on-the-job training would be most useful for court staff?

Managers can provide employees with the opportunity to observe a court session, clerk’s hearing or probation violation hearing, followed by discussion with the judge, clerk or probation officer about what was observed. These opportunities can take place across “office lines,” as well as across Trial Court departments. There are many opportunities for experiential learning that will bring additional context, meaning and understanding to one’s own work and to the work of others. Judges frequently participate in reciprocal courtroom observation followed by discussion between the judges. Judges report that this is one of the most valuable learning tools available to them. Not only are they exposed to various judicial styles and preferences, but sometimes – even more powerfully – they experience what it’s like to sit in the assembly and experience court from a completely different vantage point. A simple brown bag lunch in a conference room or available courtroom is another simple way to bring people together to share information, exchange ideas, and improve service.


How can people find out more about training and continuing education opportunities?

Take an active role to seek out training. Visit the Judicial Institute intranet site, or click on the Judicial Institute button on the menu of options that appear on the left side of the Trial Court intranet homepage. Look at the calendar on our website to find out what programs are coming up. And check your email every day. The Judicial Institute emails program notices and registration materials, so you’ll miss out if you don’t check your email inbox each work day. You can use the course suggestion form on our webpage to suggest topics you’d like to see us offer. And, if you want to take a course that’s offered by an outside organization, complete the funding request form on the JI intranet webpage. It’s PDF-fillable and can be completed online. Fill it out, have your manager approve it and follow the instructions on the form. Funding is limited, so get your request in early, and be certain to provide the required authorizations and attachments.


Training-at-a-Glance: Here’s some of what’s coming up at the Judicial Institute this year…

The Judicial Institute recently held a retreat with JI program managers and staff to get a big picture view of broad topical areas to address in FY15. Most programming can be divided into six broad content areas:  

Orientation – The next new employee two-day orientation will be held on November 4th and 5th at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. This program is offered every six months and is mandatory for all new employees. Since May 2013, we’ve offered four two-day programs, reaching approximately 600 new employees. A separate, required orientation program dedicated exclusively to human resources issues occurs on the third Wednesday of every other month. This is also mandatory for new employees.

New judges will participate in a three-day orientation program this March. They also have the benefit of training and orientation conducted within their court departments, and each is assigned a mentor coach for the first year of service. In addition, every new judge is videotaped between the 9th and 12th month of service on the bench, participates in courtroom observation, and attends a series of programs on topics such as domestic violence, ethics, and the emergency judicial response system.

Law & Procedure – These courses cover a wide range of topics. Some of the topical areas that will be covered in upcoming programs for judges, clerks and staff are mental health proceedings, civil procedure, small claims, landlord/tenant issues, criminal law and procedure, and Dwyer.

Social Impact Issues – These programs focus on matters of social impact, such as domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health, specialty courts, Changing Lives Through Literature, and veterans’ issues. We are currently developing domestic violence required training for all Trial Court staff. Our programs on social impact issues offer approaches from various perspectives and are appropriate for employees working at all levels and functions across the organization. They also have the potential of affecting our workforce in both personal and professional ways.

Skills Training – These programs tackle the “how-to-do-it” aspect of professional development. This area of education includes critical topics such as providing exceptional customer experience, mindful engagement, effective communication, mentor coaching, and other areas such as conducting performance appraisals or judicial evaluation feedback discussion, stress management, time management, and human resources management. The list is long and growing, and the topics and the needs are unlimited. The Judicial Institute is limited in this area only by its resources.

Technology – Everyone is aware of the significant need for technology training. It’s particularly challenging because of the hands-on nature of the training, the small class size required to be effective, the limited training venues, and the limited number of court staff with both technical and training expertise. We’ve conducted considerable training in MassCourts, but much more needs to be done to keep up with MassCourts’ updates and modifications, as well as other software applications and programs. The Judicial Institute is hiring a program manager dedicated exclusively to technology training. I encourage those with strong tech skills at every level of the system to share their knowledge and skills with other staff by teaching their colleagues, formally and informally.

Management & Leadership – This is an area of particular interest for Court Administrator Spence and Chief Justice Carey. It’s also an area of focus and discussion among the members of the Court Management Advisory Board. Again in FY15, the Judicial Institute will work with planning committees for the annual judicial leadership conference and the annual clerks’ conference. We also anticipate the completion of the first round of the Michigan State University Judicial Administration Certificate Program and the start of a second round of that program, which will include participants from all levels of the Trial Court who have been nominated by their managers in recognition of their potential as future court leaders. This is one of many steps toward making succession planning part of our ongoing dialogue, and establishing a framework to identify and develop the next generation of court leaders.