The backlash from the 2008 economic meltdown has been pervasive. Schools are laying off teachers at alarming rates. My state, Illinois, can’t pay its bills. Courts are not immune. Limited resources will translate into more limited services. But with all problems lie opportunities. Here are some suggestions for a more efficient use of limited family court services:
- allow lawyers to e-mail or fax agreed orders to the court;
- allow pretrial conferences or case management conferences to be done by video conference or telephone conference;
- mandate mandatory mediation for all matters–not just custody matters;
- in general, a more creative use of ADR including arbitration;
- encourage presentation of written motions without oral argument;
- encourage “stipulated” property trials, where stipulated facts are presented to the court along with a written argument and proposed disposition;
- A heightened sensitivity and enforcement policy concerning frivolous use of court resources;
- Use of special masters to decide temporary or collateral matters;
- A strict prohibition against continuances except for good cause.
Courts’ resources ar not finite. They should be reserved for matters that truly need court intervention, not family baby sitting duties that family judges sadly undertake daily. Technology should be used more effectively to save trips to the courthouse, thus savings litigants fees. Less bodies in court will not only depressurize court, it will relieve collateral services such as security and facility maintenance.
As lawyers and judges, we are reluctant to change. But as the world turns so must we. Let’s think about ways to improve our system in light of dwindling resources.