Court Culture

Resource Guide

Both court culture and performance are complex because each one is an attempt to provide a comprehensive look at the full range of court activities. Just as court culture is an effort to define the source of virtually all aspects of criminal and civil court operations, performance is a method to define and assess the most important actions that a court can take. This topic attempts to address the nature and significance of each separate idea, and then attempts to synthesize and suggest how the two might be unified more closely in the future.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Resource

Brian J. Ostrom, Matthew Kleiman, and Roger A. Hanson. The High Performance Court Framework. (2011). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2011.

This article highlights essential aspects of a recent publication by the National Center for State Courts, Achieving High Performance: A Framework for Courts.  The objective is to summarize the Framework's concepts, identify their practical significance for judges and administrators, and connect the Framework to the larger, continuing trend of court reform.

Hon. Kevin S. Burke. It Is All About the People Who Work in the Courthouse. (2011). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2011.

Tough budgetary times mean lower morale at the courthouse. What can judges do to improve staff morale and, thus, the administration of justice?

Lefever, R. Dale. The Integration of Judicial Independence and Judicial Administration: The Role of Collegiality in Court Governance. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. Can courts have both judicial independence and effective court administration? A collegial approach might be the best way to resolve this “conflict.”


Brian J. Ostrom and Roger A. Hanson. Understanding Court Culture Is Key to Successful Court Reform. (2010). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2010.

Court culture warrants attention to ensure administrative practices are aligned with the shared values and beliefs judges and managers have about the way work gets done.  Ignoring culture undermines reform efforts by unnecessarily risking indifference and resistance to new practices.

David C. Steelman and Marco Fabri. Can an Italian Court Use the American Approach to Delay Reduction?. (2008). Justice System Journal 29, no.1.

This article serves to outline some of the issues associated with delay in Italian courts and to consider whether American courts' solutions for delay might be helpful for Italian courts and in countries with similar problems.

Ostrom, Brian J. et al. Trial Courts as Organizations. (2007). Chicago: Temple University Press In this book, the authors examine how courts operate, what characteristics they may display, and how they function as a unit to preserve judicial independence, strengthen organizational leadership, and influence court performance.
Terry Nafisi. One Hundred Years Since Pound: Has Court Reform Mattered?. (2006). Justice System Journal 27, no.2.

This interview with three court administration leaders, Alexander B. Aikman, Geoff Gallas, and Russell Wheeler, reviews the accomplishments of court reform since Roscoe Pound's speech launched the court reform movement.

Ostrom, Brian, Roger Hanson, and Matthew Kleiman. Caseload Highlights: Examining Court Culture. (2005). Research Division.

This issue of Caseload Highlights demonstrates how the theory and measurement of court culture provides a coherent framework and a concrete basis to describe the ways courts conduct business and how their cultural work orientations are related to variations in performance.

Ostrom, Brian, Roger Hanson, Charles Ostrom, and Matthew Kleiman. Court Cultures and their Consequences. (Spring 2005). Court Manager Volume 20, Number 1. This article talks about how court culture is defined as the expectations and beliefs judges and court administrators have about the way work gets done.
Burke, Hon. Kevin, and Frank Broccolina. Another View of Local Legal Culture: More Than Court Culture. (Winter 2005). Court Manager Volume 20, number. 4: Page 29 This article is a rebuttal to the article by Geoff Gallas, "Local Legal Culture: More Than Court Culture."  The authors argue that court culture has a significant impact on case-processing times, and courts should examine their court culture to become more effective. 
Gallas, Geoff. Local Legal Culture: More Than Court Culture. (Winter 2005). Court Manager Volume 20, Number 4, Page 23 This article begins with the historical development of the concept of “local legal culture" and how its limitations led to the development of the broader concept of “court culture.”  
Ostrom, Brian Efficiency, Timeliness and Quality: A New Perspective from Nine State Criminal Trial Courts. (June 2000). National Institute of Justice Timeliness and the quality of justice are not mutually exclusive either in theory or in fact. Expeditious criminal case resolution is found to be associated with court systems in which the conditions also promote effective advocacy. Because effective advocacy underlies due process and equal protection of the law, it is an integral aspect of the broader concept of quality case processing. The evidence from this study suggests that well-performing courts should be expected to excel in terms of both timeliness and quality.
Church, al. Justice Delayed: The Pace of Litigation in Urban Trial Courts. (1978). NCSC with the National Conference of Metropolitan Courts.

Report examines the pace of civil and criminal litigation in state trial courts of general jurisdiction.

Temple University Organizational Culture in American Trial Courts.

First chapter in the book Trial Courts as Organizations (Brian J. Ostrom et al., Temple University Press). Briefly explains that courts cannot successfully administer justice if the management culture is not strong. Court personnel must work well together in order to perform their jobs more efficiently. Find an excerpt in the link.

Church, Thomas, Jo-Lynne Lee, Teresa Tan, Alan Carlson and Virgina McConnell. Pretrial Delay: A Review and Bibliography. (1978).

This is a "critical review of extensive literature dealing with the pervasive and long-standing problem of pretrial delay in American trial courts" . . . written as a preliminary stage in a major research and demonstration project on trial court delay.