The 30th Judicial District of North Carolina is a rural, seven county district located in the far western part of the state. Here and, to the best of my knowledge, in the rest of the state, courts have employed the traditional in-court calendar call for civil and domestic relations calendars since well before I began practicing law in the late 1970s. This traditional in-court calendar call typically requires the attorneys to appear in the courtroom on the morning of the first day of the term in order to provide the presiding judge with information concerning their respective cases. This information then allows the judge to set the cases for hearing and trial during the term.
When dockets were small and no other alternatives were available, this was a serviceable system. However, some time in the late 1990s, we experienced a substantial upsurge in civil case volume. The in-court calendar call, which was formerly a reasonably brief and suitably efficient system, became a lumbering leviathan which consumed the first half day of a term and resulted in a degree of uncertainty which was detrimental to all involved in the process.
I felt that there had to be a better way to approach the exchange of information between the lawyers or pro se parties and the court. I had watched as everything from banks to booksellers made the seamless transformation from brick and mortar to online entity. This struck me as the solution to the court’s burgeoning problem.
To that end, I built a web site and created what became known as the Electronic Calendar Call. Rather than lawyers coming to court on the first day of a term to tell me if they were ready for trial, how long their case would take to try and other information pertinent to setting a trial schedule, they now fill out an online form which provides me with that same information. However, rather than supplying that information the day of court, it is submitted well in advance of the term. With that information in hand, I am able to publish a precise trial schedule, setting the dates and times for hearings and trials and disseminating that information to the attorneys and pro se parties no less than a week in advance of the term of court.
How does the court and those participating in it benefit from the Electronic Calendar Call? While admittedly biased in my assessment, I would submit the following:
ATTORNEYS – The attorneys no longer appear in court unless they are there to move their cases forward. The information that the court needs to set a trial schedule is provided online in a matter of minutes from the convenience of their offices. When the trial/hearing schedule is set a week in advance, they can then make plans in accordance with the schedule. If they have cases scheduled for a particular day, they can advise clients and witnesses. If they don’t have cases scheduled, they can attend other courts without concern about conflicts with my court or they can schedule office appointments with clients.
CLIENTS – In a business where time is money to clients, they no longer pay their lawyers to do things that don’t specifically advance their case toward ultimate resolution. Clients also learn of the schedule far enough in advance that they can adjust work schedules and advise employers of court obligations to minimize employment disruptions. Clients don’t come to court if their cases aren’t reached. If nothing else, it minimizes the stress related to numerous court appearances in which their case is not advanced.
JUDGES – Rather than the crush of information that arrives at an in-court calendar call during the first morning of a term, the relevant information arrives far enough in advance for the judge to create a calendar that suits his/her preferences and to work around the conflicts lawyers have with other courts, thus maximizing the use of the available court time.
COURTS – The courts and consequently the public benefit from the maximization of court time. If the available court time is used to its fullest capacity, more cases are heard and more cases are disposed of, potentially shortening the time from commencement to completion of a given case.
The Electronic Calendar Call is a simple, efficient and productive means by which cases can be processed through the legal system … at least here in the 30th Judicial District of North Carolina.