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Programs and Resources for Judges

Orientation for New U.S. District Judges

New district judges are invited to attend two one-week programs produced by the Center. In Phase I, two experienced district judges serve as mentors and lead discussions built around a series of in-person and recorded scenarios. The Center also invites appellate judges new to the federal bench to attend the Phase I program.

The Phase I program employs an interactive, skills-based learning approach. By the end of Phase I, seminar participants should be able to

  • Identify ethical issues implicating the judicial codes of conduct and contact appropriate committee members for guidance
  • Identify various methods of conducting voir dire and assess the pros and cons of each method
  • Organize civil and criminal dockets to manage caseloads efficiently
  • Spot issues in cases that make the cases more likely to settle
  • Understand how to run a criminal trial, including how to address criminal pretrial motions
  • Understand the workings of a federal prison, including the role of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
  • Make evidentiary decisions with greater confidence, having completed several mock exercises
  • Make sentencing determinations using the United States Sentencing Guidelines, having participated in several mock scenarios
  • Identify circumstances implicating judicial security issues and respond appropriately

The Phase II orientation program brings together several Phase I classes of district judges with less than one year on the bench. It complements the court orientation activities in a judge's home district and the Center's Phase I orientation seminar. The program focuses on substantive areas of law, as well as skills training provided by experienced judges. It provides opportunities for discussion and practice with feedback to build skills. By the end of the Phase II seminar, participants should be able to

  • Create a system for assessing federal jurisdiction
  • Recognize recent changes to employment discrimination and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) caselaw and employ such skills as active listening and information gathering to proactively address issues
  • Effectively structure written opinions
  • Identify the role of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and issues currently facing the judiciary
  • Develop a strategy for staying physically and mentally healthy
  • Reflect on how each participant's story, history, and culture is shaped and informed by global influences
  • Issue sentencing determinations with greater confidence
  • Identify nuanced ethical issues implicating the judicial codes of conduct and contact appropriate committee members for guidance
  • Identify various methods for handling repetitive case types and assess the pros and cons of each method
  • Understand the role of judicial records and explore its impact on legacy building
  • Discern recent changes to Section 1983 law and spot issues in those cases making them more likely to settle
  • Discuss judiciary procedures and policies for preventing workplace harassment

The Center sends each new district judge with no previous federal judicial experience (i.e., the judge is not a sitting magistrate judge) a set of selected publications that can be added to chambers or bench reference materials.

Orientation for New U.S. Bankruptcy Judges  

New bankruptcy judges are invited to attend two one-week programs produced by the Center. The initial, Phase I, orientation program invites experienced bankruptcy judges to serve as mentors and lead discussions built around a series of videotaped lectures. Topics include each of the bankruptcy chapters, discharge and dischargeability, case management, and evidence. This four-day program is offered as needed during the year and is attended by bankruptcy judges with less than six months on the bench.

The Phase II orientation program is attended by several Phase I classes of bankruptcy judges with less than eighteen months on the bench. Participants analyze the decision-making process, in theory and in practice; study the role of judges; assess case-management styles; consider key ethical dilemmas confronted by new judges; rule on simulated evidentiary issues; and examine best writing practices.

The Center sends each new bankruptcy judge a set of selected publications that can be added to chambers or bench reference materials.

Orientation for New U.S. Magistrate Judges

The Center invites newly designated U.S. magistrate judges to attend a two-phase orientation consisting of two one-week programs. In Phase I, experienced magistrate judges serve as mentors and lead discussions built around criminal and civil case scenarios and hypothetical examples.

As a result of this program, participants are able to

  • Describe the fundamentals of criminal pretrial in the federal courts managed primarily by magistrate judges, including complaints, arrest warrants, search warrants, pretrial services, appointment of counsel, initial appearances, pretrial release or detention, release with conditions, preliminary hearings, and removal hearings
  • Describe the elements of pretrial proceedings in civil cases, including preliminary motions and discovery matters
  • Identify ethical issues implicating the judicial codes of conduct and contact appropriate committee members for guidance
  • Identify different methods of alternative dispute resolution that may be available to parties and identify the elements of a settlement conference, including opening statements, facilitating discussion, evaluating the progress of the conference, ethical considerations, and closing
  • Develop tools to bridge the transition from lawyer to judge and explore their own judicial identity
  • Use technology to manage caseloads efficiently

The Phase II program is attended by judges from several Phase I classes who have less than a year on the bench. Topics include more in-depth criminal and civil case management, habeas corpus, pro se litigation, social security, Section 1983 and qualified immunity, employment law, and ethics.

The Center sends each new magistrate judge a set of selected publications that can be added to chambers or bench reference materials.

Orientation for New U.S. Court of Appeals Judges

The Center sponsors new U.S. court of appeals judges’ attendance at an orientation program for state and federal appellate judges at New York University School of Law. Topics in this six-day program include oral argument, conferencing and collegiality, styles of judicial reasoning, the process of decision making, and opinion writing. Appellate judges who are new to the federal bench are also invited to attend Phase I of the Center’s Orientation for New U.S. District Judges.

The Center sends each new appellate judge with no previous federal judicial experience (i.e., the judge is not a sitting district judge) a set of selected publications that can be added to chambers or bench reference materials.

Circuit Workshops for U.S. Appellate and District Judges

Workshops for appellate and district judges of individual circuits are planned by the Circuit Judicial Education Planning Committees in consultation with the Federal Judicial Center. Emphasis is placed on topics of particular interest to judges of the circuit. The Center hosts national workshops for U.S. district judges in alternate years.

National Workshop for U.S. Bankruptcy Judges

This program features sessions on topics of particular interest to U.S. bankruptcy judges. Past plenary sessions have addressed such topics as evidence and trial skills; judicial ethics and fostering respectful workplace culture; financial fragility in the middle class; the roots of the 2008 financial crisis; and an update on Supreme Court cases of significance to bankruptcy judges. Participants may choose among concurrent sessions that have addressed such topics as

  • Cybersecurity
  • Developments in business law
  • Developments in consumer law
  • Discovery and e-discovery
  • Mental health issues in bankruptcy
  • Recognizing and responding to the problems of LLCs in bankruptcy
  • Seeing things a new way (using art to improve visual perception)
  • Specialized uses of technology (multiple sessions)
  • Trial skills practice.

Small-group discussion sessions typically include such topics as

  • Getting feedback
  • Handling Chapter 9 cases
  • Handling Chapter 11 cases
  • Handling challenging parties
  • Finance through the lens of literature
  • Special concerns of judges at various career stages.

National Workshop for U.S. Magistrate Judges

This program features sessions on topics of particular interest to U.S. magistrate judges, such as civil and pro se litigation, criminal procedure, psychological states of litigants, and ethics. Instruction is offered in both plenary and breakout session formats.

Typical breakout sessions might address such topics as

  • Evaluating the constitutional and civil liberties implications of the use of drones by law enforcement
  • Assessing the impact on judges of implicit bias, mindfulness, physical and mental stressors, and emotional equanimity
  • Finding an excellent law clerk
  • Maximizing cybersecurity
  • Conducting a Fair Labor Standards Act case
  • Writing more effectively
  • Facilitating mediation sessions
  • Overcoming obstacles encountered in the use of courtroom, chambers, and personal technology
  • Designing and delivering jury instructions
  • Obtaining available IT hardware and software for a more efficient chambers and/or courtroom
  • Preparing for retirement from the bench or transition to recall status and identifying ethical (and other) concerns arising from retirement
  • Implementing foundational provisions of the Bail Reform Act
  • Analyzing different models of reentry and other problem-solving courts and their functionality

National Symposium for U.S. Court of Appeals Judges

This program is conducted every three years and brings together court of appeals judges from across the country. The Center’s Appellate Judge Education Advisory Committee works closely with Center staff to plan sessions that are substantive and timely. Past symposiums have included such sessions as A New Supreme Court; Judging, Fast and Slow; Civil Discourse Past and Future; Ethics in Judicial Decision Making; and Legacy of Courage: The Rule of Law in the Civil Rights Era.

Special Focus Programs

The Center offers a variety of small seminars designed to provide an in-depth look at a topic of particular interest to judges. Faculty members are experts in their fields and share the latest research and current understanding of the topic. The following are some of the special focus programs offered:

Antitrust Law and Economics Institute—This program is a collaboration between the Federal Judicial Center, the Antitrust Section of the American Bar Association, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Berkeley. It focuses on antitrust law and economics fundamentals. During this seminar, judges discuss market definition, market power, competitive effects, horizontal restraints, vertical restraints, and unilateral conduct. They consider those topics in the context of various procedural issues, including pleading an antitrust case post-Twombly; antitrust injury; class certification; and the use of experts at class certification, during damages analysis, and throughout trial. Judges also focus on issues at the intersection of antitrust law and intellectual property law, as well as the law and economics of merger enforcement.

Constitutional Issues Symposium—The Federal Judicial Center partners with the National Constitution Center to host a seminar addressing matters of Constitutional law and history. Sample topics have included The Constitution and the Administrative State:  The Separation of Powers and the Appropriate Role of Government in Society; Judicial Indepenence and the Federal Courts: A Historical Perspective; Hamilton's Vision: Federalism, National Authority, and Judicial Review; and The Constitution and the Administrative State: The Separation of Powers and the Apppropriate Role of Government in Society. The symposia examine the history and current context of constitutional issues and their implications for society broadly and the federal courts specifically. 

Electronic Discovery Seminar—Cosponsored with the Electronic Discovery Institute, this program offers judges an opportunity to explore relevant technologies, rules, and legal requirements related to the retrieval of electronically stored information (ESI). Participants examine the types of data that can be collected, the limitations of that data, and the implications for protecting sensitive information and personal rights. Participants also consider effective strategies for case management in the context of e-discovery matters.

Employment Law Seminar—The New York University School of Law’s Institute of Judicial Administration and Center for Labor and Employment Law cosponsor this seminar with the Federal Judicial Center. Participating judges become better equipped to identify and resolve issues that arise in employment law litigation, including issues related to the use of experts, electronic discovery, case management, retaliation, implicit bias, “big data,” and the role of the whistle blower. The judges also examine the elements of employment discrimination claims; consider the application of the American Law Institute’s Restatement of Employment Law; evaluate the merits of different remedies available in cases presenting claims of discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender, and race; and discuss best practices for crafting and delivering jury instructions.

Faculty Development Seminar—Many of the presenters and facilitators at Center programs for judges are judges themselves. To prepare them for this faculty role, the Center invites judges to explore and experiment with adult learning theory and interactive teaching techniques. After participating in demonstrations on the power of facilitative teaching, judges work with their own subject matter to implement the techniques they have learned.

Intellectual Property in the New Technological Age—Cosponsored with the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, this seminar addresses such topics as patent law basics (prosecution, requirements for patentability, infringement, defenses, and remedies); patent case management; copyright basics; trademark basics (trademark dilution, trade dress protection, trademark issues in cyberspace); and emerging issues in intellectual property law.

Law and Biosciences Seminar—Developed in cooperation with Stanford Law School and its Center for Law and the Biosciences, this seminar examines genetics and neuroscience in a variety of contexts. Participants learn to identify key societal and ethical issues raised by rapid advances in science and genetics; apply key legal developments at the intersection of intellectual property law and biotechnology to future case decisions; relate challenges and promises in assisted reproduction; and recognize key issues in genetic testing, counseling, and privacy that might arise in future litigation.

Law and Neuroscience Seminar—This seminar is cosponsored with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and funded by a grant from the Dana Foundation. It gives judges the opportunity to learn about developments in neuroscience and better understand the role that neuroscience can play in legal determinations, such as decisions about criminal culpability and the admissibility of evidence.

Law and Society Seminar—Cosponsored with Harvard Law School, this seminar examines social issues that affect the law and considers how those issues may influence the role of judging in society. Planned sessions address intellectual property, constitutional law, Supreme Court jurisprudence, managing partisan perceptions in disputes, and the impact of changes in technology on the law.

Mediation Skills Workshop—Experienced federal judges, federal circuit mediators, and faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University help equip participants with mediation and negotiation tools to help bring about the resolution of a case. Using hypothetical scenarios, experiential learning techniques, and immediate feedback, faculty assist participating judges in practicing expert mediation techniques, such as how to prepare parties for a mediation, when and how to conduct joint and separate sessions, how to remove impasses, how to mediate complex litigation, how to identify and address ethics issues that might arise, and how to close the mediation. Judges receive constructive feedback and insights into how to grow more adept at using the skills taught.

Mid-career Seminar—This program focuses on the concerns and learning needs of judges at or near the midpoint of their judicial careers. Participants have opportunities to reflect upon the aspirational goals of judging from historical, cultural, and ethical perspectives; select effective strategies for handling common job-related frustrations; identify strategies for dealing with the challenges of social and technological complexity in judicial decision making; and choose a personal leadership approach for various settings, including chambers, the legal community, and the community at large. Using an interactive, small-group format, the program igives participants an opportunity to step back and reflect upon their past and present and then plan for their future as judges.

Search and Surveillance Warrants in the Digital Era—This seminar examines legal basics relating to the issuance of digital search and surveillance warrants, technical background on the nature and uses of the newest search and surveillance technology, and what new developments the future may hold. The program was developed in cooperation with Stanford Law School and its Center for Internet and Society, and faculty include digital technology and tech industry professionals, digital service providers, experienced judges, and legal scholars. Participants not only see how the newest digital search technology works and what it can do, but they work through examples and examine each warrant's implications on Fourth Amendment rights. Judges address complex legal and constitutional questions by reviewing and ruling on real-life warrant applications.

Pretrial Decision Making for Magistrate Judges

This seminar addresses the use of evidence-based decision making about pretrial release or detention. Pretrial Decision Making for Magistrate Judges is offered in tandem with a program on pretrial risk assessment offered by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). The AO presentation examines the nature and use of the validated federal pretrial risk assessment instrument, which is used by most district pretrial services offices.

The program includes opportunities for scenario-based experiential learning and interactive discussions among judges, pretrial services experts, and faculty. Participants are encouraged to raise questions about issues of specific interest to their districts. 

The curriculum focuses on three major themes:

  1. The Bail Reform Act of 1984 is constructed upon the constitutional presumption that defendants are innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to pretrial release, absent certain facts; the Act also enumerates specific factors that U.S. magistrate judges must consider in rendering pretrial release and detention decisions.
  2. Risk is inherent in every release decision, and even well-reasoned decisions can have adverse outcomes. U.S. probation and pretrial services officers have an evidence-based risk assessment tool that is used by most of the nation’s pretrial services professionals and is an integral part of many pretrial investigations.
  3. Probation and pretrial services officers are a valuable resource provided by the courts to help magistrate judges identify the risks posed by defendants and to fashion appropriate release conditions to address identified risks. 

Judges Information Technology Training

In this two-day program, court teams work to build an effective IT training plan for judicial officers and chambers staff in their respective districts. Participants learn how to incorporate sound educational principles into local training initiatives, including principles of assessment, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. Team members work together to develop an implementation plan. The scope of the local implementation plan varies from court to court and is managed locally.