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Human Resources – Annual Report 2020

Attracting, training, and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce are hallmarks of the federal Judiciary. Critical support systems and innovative human resource practices are vital to the efficient operation and management of the Judiciary.

Cultivating a Diverse, Fair, and Inclusive Culture

The Judiciary launched several initiatives aimed at cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture that values individual respect, dignity, and professional growth. The initiatives also emphasize the fair and equal treatment of all members of the public whom the Judiciary serves. Among them were the following:

Workforce Demographic Survey

In June, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) launched a survey allowing Judiciary employees to self-report their demographic data. Consistent with the U.S. Census Bureau model, employees could list both race and ethnicity, select more than one race, and identify their gender as male, female, or nonbinary. The survey made possible more direct analyses of the Judiciary’s workforce data compared with overall federal workforce data and broader demographic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau.

Diversity and Inclusion Officer

The AO appointed a diversity and inclusion officer within its Office of Fair Employment Practices. The officer provides expert guidance to courts in measuring and monitoring diversity; assists in developing new programs to increase diversity; and facilitates training, speaker series, and panel discussions to promote an inclusive work environment.

Summer Judicial Internship Diversity Project

In 2020, the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Resources (JRC) continued its collaboration with Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization on the Summer Judicial Internship Diversity Project. The project places highly qualified, diverse law students in judicial internships to increase the pipeline of diverse candidates for federal clerkship positions. The number of law students selected for internships with federal judges grew from 32 in the summer of 2019 to 92 in the summer of 2020.

Model Diversity Program

The AO expanded and enhanced the Model Intern Diversity Pilot Program, which funds a number of internships throughout the court system. The program is designed to nurture interest in professional careers in the Judiciary, develop future judicial workforce leaders with on-the-job learning, and provide students of various backgrounds with the opportunity to work directly with federal judges and court executives. It now includes professional development training in resume writing and interviewing skills, and diversity and inclusion learning opportunities. The program grew from three interns in 2018 to nine in 2020.

Federal Defender Diversity Fellowships

The JRC, at the request of the Defender Services Committee, recommended the establishment of a Federal Defender Diversity Fellowship Program, which would create a pipeline of qualified diverse attorneys ready to join federal defender offices, Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panels, and federal capital trial teams. Fourteen fellows would be selected for two-year terms: Two of them would focus on federal capital trial practice, and 12 would focus on non-capital cases.

Probation and Pretrial Services Diversity and Bias Initiatives

In the wake of the tragic incidents of excessive police force in the country and the ensuing public debate about fairness in the criminal justice system, the AO’s Probation and Pretrial Services Office and Chiefs Advisory Group launched four initiatives. They will study data on any evidence of disparate treatment, examine national and local training to ensure proper techniques and clear information on the harm of discrimination and the value of diversity, better communicate the unique mission of probation and pretrial officers to the public and the job applicant pool, and evaluate procedures for reporting and responding to complaints about officer misconduct.

Expanded Training and Development Opportunities

The AO expanded its offerings of online training programs, webinars, and in-person events to help Judiciary employees improve their knowledge and skills.  Online learning across the courts increased significantly in 2020, with participation in the Judiciary Online University up 19 percent and enrollment in the Benefits for Life webinar nearly doubling. The benefits webinar addressed retirement planning and saving, mental illness, and other topics. Writing, telework, workplace harassment, leadership, and time management programs were especially popular topics, as were courses on workforce planning, onboarding, leave tracking, and pandemic-related policies.

More than 2,500 Judiciary employees participated in a webinar titled Coping with Change in Uncertain Times. The AO Writing Program held remote writing classes for Judiciary employees nationwide. And more than 130 employees participated in extended collaboration opportunities that expand skills and contribute to projects outside an employee’s regular responsibilities.

Director’s Leadership Program

Each year, candidates are chosen for the Director’s Leadership Program, a yearlong residency that offers well-qualified court and federal defender employees the opportunity to work on national projects while gaining a greater understanding of national issues and policies. The following were the Director’s Leadership Program residents for 2020:

Jacqueline A. Johnson

Jacqueline A. Johnson

Jacqueline A. Johnson, first assistant federal public defender, Northern District of Ohio

Johnson joined the Judiciary’s National Recruitment Strategy Initiative project on Oct. 1, 2020, assigned to work with Human Resources Office employees on an initiative to evaluate the Judiciary’s current recruitment practices, identify needs, and recommend national solutions. She provides valuable perspectives from the field and critical input for analyzing existing outreach and recruitment initiatives in the courts and federal defender organizations and for developing a national recruitment strategy. 


Robert Phelps

Robert Phelps

Robert Phelps, clerk of court, Northern District of Iowa

Phelps joined the Judicial Conference Secretariat to work on implementing recommendations from the Advisory Process Review project. He is responsible for supporting the efforts of the working group, including assisting in the development and execution of a comprehensive communication plan. The undertaking involves researching; seeking information from judges, executives, and Judiciary staff; and building consensus where needed. Phelps has over 20 years of experience with the Judiciary.

Law Clerk Hiring Plan Extended

The Judiciary’s Federal Law Clerk Hiring Pilot Plan, aimed at making the judicial clerkship hiring process more transparent and uniform, was extended for two years after getting good reviews from both law school deans and judges. The two-year extension runs through June 2022.

Law clerks, who are often selected from the pool of talented law students and recent law school graduates, directly assist judges in legal matters, such as drafting motions and opinions. The hiring process is done through the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), which enables candidates to search for law clerk positions, upload applications, and send them to judges they are interested in clerking for. All participating judges receive applications on the same day and are given a 24-hour window to review them before they can begin the interview process.

The plan also delays the hiring of students for clerkships until their second year of law school. By not beginning the hiring process until a law student’s second year, judges hope to reduce the pressure that clerkship applications add to the already stressful first year of law school and to give students more time to work with professors, write for law journals, and participate in other law school activities.

Travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and the need to protect the safety of applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic led to almost universal adoption of remote audio and video interviewing by judges participating in the pilot project.

Better Onboarding Processes

The AO has improved the Judiciary’s electronic onboarding application process this year, making user accounts easier to set up and manage. The effort continued the Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS) onboarding initiative that was introduced in 2019 to modernize the onboarding and transfers of judges, employees, interns, volunteers, and contractors. Automation of onboarding procedures has improved data integrity significantly and streamlined the delivery of information technology services.

Revised Staffing Formulas

In September 2020, the Judicial Conference approved updated staffing formulas for probation and pretrial offices at courts across the country. The formulas are based on data from approximately 98 percent of the staff in all 112 probation and pretrial services offices nationally. The new formulas more accurately account for the work performed and hours worked. They show that the probation and pretrial services offices need an additional 39 full-time equivalent positions, a 4 percent increase. The additional staff would alleviate the heavy demands on probation and pretrial services offices, enabling them to support judge-involved programs and move evidenced based practices programs forward to reduce recidivism. The increase also will help prevent burnout resulting from excessive after-hours work.