Impact of Judicial Branch Education: Making a Difference to Improve the Quality of Justice

By M. Christy Tull, Manager, Curriculum Development, Supreme Court of Ohio Judicial College

“The purpose of any program of continuing judicial education is to provide a process…to improve judicial performance, and thereby, the quality of justice,” according to a 1993 University of New South Wales law journal article on the need for judicial education.”

As Judicial Branch Educators, we believe this statement to be true. But what evidence do we have that we help make the difference?

Judicial Branch Education is an “Evidence-based” Practice  
Released in August 2011, a study by The Ohio State University (OSU) is now added to a young body of research that shows that judicial branch education based on adult learning principles is an “evidence-based” practice.  After a year-long impact study, OSU found that the Supreme Court of Ohio Judicial College courses are “effective at contributing to changes in knowledge, attitudes, and skills/behaviors” of judges and magistrates.  While this study focused specifically on juvenile court judges and magistrates, the findings are widely applicable to other jurisdictions and court personnel.  In addition to this significant finding, the OSU researchers found that judges form a strong Community of Practice through their participation in Judicial College courses and activities. “This community serves as a catalyst for development of judicial expertise among juvenile judges and through which the effectiveness of judicial education is enhanced.”

“The Judicial College’s pursuit of excellence in its activities and course offerings was the impetus for this evaluation,” OSU Associate Professor Ann A. O’Connell said. “We found that the judicial education provided through the Judicial College does promote excellence and expertise among both new and experienced juvenile judges. Our hope is that these findings will contribute to local as well as national-level discussions about the fundamental role of evaluation in the design and delivery of professional development for juvenile judges.”  Professor O’Connell teaches at the College of Education and Human Ecology and is Section Head of the Program in Quantitative Research, Evaluation, and Measurement, School of Educational Policy and Leadership.  Graduate student, Joy Edington, assisted with this impact study.

Report’s Use by Other Judicial Branch Education Organizations
While Ohio-focused, the findings in this report – that what we do matters – can support the work of all NASJE members locally, nationally, and internationally.  This study is one of only a few attempts at a rigorous examination, under academic research standards, of the effectiveness of our efforts to educate the judiciary and its staff.  It is gratifying to Ohio and hopefully our NASJE colleagues to have this solid evidence affirming that the work we do makes a positive impact on the quality of justice dispensed in the courts.

Need to Continue Best Practices
To ensure long-term, high-quality and effective continuing judicial branch education, the OSU researchers offered a “best practice” model that is a good guide to be shared.  The following are best practices to maintain and further our leadership in professional development through judicial branch education, based on OSU’s literature review and evaluation findings:

  • Align desired courses and curricula with organizational and national objectives, and with individual or group standards and needs whenever possible (think curriculum-based education and learning objectives);
  • Customize and tailor training and assessment/evaluation to individual judges’ jurisdictional demographics and other relevant factors such as the judges’ number of years experience on the bench;
  • Design and Deliver professional development courses and sessions to incorporate a variety of techniques and that emphasize networking and engagement in a Community of Practice;
  • Assess courses using course-specific and objectives-based methods; and
  • Follow-up to examine outcomes of professional development and establish real-time corrections for optimal professional development outcomes

Do we – Judicial Branch Educators – make a difference?  The answer is YES.  And we now have one more study to show that judicial branch education based on adult learning principles is an “evidence-based” practice.

For a full copy of the report, go to  For questions or continued dialog, please feel free to contact Christy Tull: