Judges are drowning in oceans of legal briefs, thanks to this country's overloaded judicial system.
"The biggest issue facing federal courts is how we can cope with the rising caseloads and do our jobs well," said Patricia M. Wald, chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals.Wald said she applauds mediation efforts - such as opening a Utah office of the American Arbitration Association - that can cut down on the federal court backlog.
Most attorneys are attracted to the bench by what they perceive is the opportunity to make thoughtful, reflective, considered judgements. "A lot of them are simply finding its like an assembly line," she said in an interview with the Deseret News.
Officially, Wald is visiting the University of Utah Law School as a David T. Lewis Distinguished Juror in residence. Unofficially, she is enjoying visiting old friends during her Utah stay. Wald addressed student forums and presided over the law school's Moot Court finals.
The judiciary needs to reconsider traditional ways of scheduling cases and judges' time, in order to deal with the backlog. In addition, some federal cases should be bounced back to the jurisdiction of state courts.
Other pressing issues facing federal courts include increasingly complex technological cases, the legal system's treatment of women and strengthening tests to determine whether there's a legal standing for a potential suit.
"If you're going to live in a sophisticated, complex, industrial society, rights and wrongs are going to be subtle and sophisticated," Wald said. "It's not so easy to have the rights and wrongs easily traced."
She suggested that federal judges need background briefings to help them understand the big picture of the government's complex agencies, instead of just seeing small puzzle pieces through individual lawsuits. Of course, she said, such conferences would need to be planned carefully so that all concerns are represented, without biasing the judges.
Wald, a mother of five, said the legal profession has grown so competitive it won't wait for women who take 10 years off for childbearing as she did. She said government institutions and law firms must be more sensitive to the needs of women who want to get ahead and raise children.
She said the years when young lawyers are expected to put in 2,500 hours a year in order to get on track for becoming a partner coincide with a woman's childbearing years. But the legal profession must bend to provide flex time or part-time opportunities in order not to lose the brightest female attorneys, she said.