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Federal Circuit Honored for Innovation in Training

The Clerk’s Office of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has received the 2019 W. Edwards Deming Outstanding Training Award. The award is granted annually to innovative federal agencies by Graduate School USA.

The Deming Award honored the Clerk’s Office for a new training program that cut training time for new case managers by 75 percent, while increasing work accuracy by 14 percent.

In 2018, Jarrett Perlow, chief deputy clerk, and Kenneth Sheain, operations manager, also received the Director’s Award for Excellence in Court Operations, which recognizes management innovation within the Judiciary. They received the award for a series of initiatives they began implementing in 2017, including development of the training program.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have court team members who treat the work they do for the court like a business, with a constant focus on bottom line results and generating the best return possible for the taxpayers who trust us with their hard earned dollars,” said Peter R. Marksteiner, circuit executive and clerk of court of the Federal Circuit. “I simply could not be prouder of our entire Clerk’s Office team for finding a new and improved way to perform the business of the office.”

“The Deming Award reflects the combined, two-year efforts of our office to deliver innovative, results-oriented solutions designed to improve quality of service,” Perlow said.

Sheain performed the initial analysis of existing training systems and found that it took 12 to 16 months to fully train new case managers—far too long for entry-level positions that have a high rate of turnover after three years.  Moreover, a review of case manager work showed only an 84 percent accuracy rate, even among trained case managers.

“There is a significant learning curve for new case managers, and the lack of clear case management standards and procedures was interfering with the ability of our office to provide great service to the court and to the public,” Sheain said.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, based in Washington, D.C., holds an unusual role in the Judiciary. Unlike regional circuit courts of appeals, the Federal Circuit hears appeals on a variety of issues from across the country, including patent disputes, international trade cases, and veterans’ benefits claims. But as with many courts, the Clerk’s Office plays an essential role in preparing accurate and complete case dockets so that judges can focus on substantive matters of justice.

An initial analysis by Sheain showed that certain types of cases were far more common than others, and that some staff had far greater workloads than others.

Instead of having new employees shadow veteran case managers, training now begins in a classroom setting, and initial hands-on work is done with a standardized set of historic cases, taken from the court’s database. This enables all new case managers to receive the same training, and their work is closely evaluated by the trainer to document progress.

“Throughout the training, we provide clear expectations and milestones and are upfront with what will be evaluated to determine mastery of each stage of training,” Sheain said.

Once new employees demonstrate 85 percent accuracy, they move on to live case files similar to the historic cases they have mastered, but they remain under a mentor’s supervision until fully autonomous with each case type.

In early testing, new case managers quickly got up to speed on the court’s biggest case types and were able to independently manage a full caseload within four months. Overall office accuracy rose from 84 percent to 96 percent.

Cristina Behen, the office’s case management supervisor and lead trainer on this project, started in the Clerk’s Office as a case manager under the former system. “Our past training was dependent upon documents being filed in a current case, which led to an inconsistent learning path,” Behen explained. “There were no written procedures or a training plan, so I never knew when I could proceed to the next unit.”

“This new training system gives case managers the resources and support they need upfront so they can succeed and become a real asset for the court,” Behen said.

The new program faced a critical test in October 2018, when three new and inexperienced case managers started the training program on the same day. All three were handling live cases within a month, and all were managing a full caseload by January 2019.

Perlow and Sheain have given presentations on their training program to staff of other federal courts.

The Deming Award is named after W. Edwards Deming, a statistician and pioneer in workplace efficiency and quality control whose ideas helped revolutionize Japanese manufacturing after World War II.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was honored in the category of Human Capital Management. Other winning programs included the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Department, and the Small Business Administration.

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