Courts should work smarter, state court administrator says Says inefficiency costs lawyers millions

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

State Court Administrator Chad Schmucker wanted to make a point about how the court system can be a waste of attorneys' time and money.

Speaking at the 23rd Annual Law Day breakfast at the Jackson Country Club May 2, Schmucker asked an attorney in the crowd if he ever waited two hours past the scheduled time for his case to be heard by a judge.

"You don't charge your client for that waiting time, do you?" asked Schmucker, a former Jackson County Circuit Court judge. "A lot of times, the client can't afford that and the attorney eats that."

Schmucker told the crowed that he intends to make the courts more efficient with a program called "Courts Working Smarter For a Better Michigan."

Schmucker estimated that if every member of the state bar had spent just one hour a week sitting around waiting on the backlogged courts, it cost lawyers around the state tens of millions of dollars a year.

Schmucker spoke about implementing trial court performance measures that would make the system more efficient, including more analysis of how fast courts get to scheduled cases, as well as customer satisfaction.

He said the place that charges him $25 for an oil change is more interested in customer satisfaction than the courts appeared to be.

The performance measuring would include such things as the percentage of jurors called to duty who actually serve on a trial, the amount of time it takes to get a case before a judge, and the satisfaction of those participating in the process.

For example, the system could measure the percentage of cases that are called within 30 minutes of when they were scheduled.

"You can track this," Schmucker said. "You can report on this. You can improve upon it."

Attorneys don't have to worry that a judge will cut short their motions or legal arguments to make sure the next case will be heard on time, Schmucker said.

"That isn't going to happen," he said.

He said some of the solutions could entail something as simple as staggering case scheduling instead of having all motions scheduled for 9 a.m.

"You are not working harder, you are working smarter," he said. "It doesn't involve more effort. It is a function of those people working smarter. ... Right now, we don't even know what the numbers are."

The Michigan Supreme Court named Schmucker to the position of state court administrator in March of 2011. The State Court Administrative Office is the administrative arm of the Michigan Supreme Court, and Schmucker oversees the state's 242 trial courts.

Schmucker said when he was a practicing attorney, he worked at a law firm with about a half dozen lawyers. Now, he oversees an office with 25 attorneys and can receive as many as 300 e-mails a day.

He said knowing what to delegate is the hardest part of his job.

Schmucker talked about when the "opportunity bus" comes around for people who are 50 years and older.

"When the opportunity bus comes by your house and you are in your 50s, you don't have to get on it," Schmucker said. "If you don't get on it, it may be the last time it comes by."

Schmucker said he never regrets hopping on that bus.

"It was a good change for me," Schmucker said. "I'm really glad I did."

Published: Wed, May 9, 2012