Pro Forma Contract and Court Help Centers

For the last two weeks, I have been working on two projects simultaneously. One is drafting a pro forma contract for NCSC’s International Visitors Education Program; the other is writing a short-form research paper on Court Help Center practices across the globe.

Since I had some work experience on contract drafting from my previous job, the pro forma contract assignment did not seem like a big challenge to me. But don’t get me wrong—I really like working on a contract, because the language in a contract is always concise and logic tight, thus beautiful in a sense. The hard part of this contract was the paragraphs on cost and payment. It can make a big difference depending on whether the cost is fixed price/lump sum or will be adjusted according to the actual cost at the completion of the program. The payment method, especially the division of the initial payment and the final payment, is closely related to the calculation of the cost. I have been working very closely with Tim, who has been a really great mentor, and learnt a lot from him. We sat down and went though the contract language line by line. Tim taught me a lot of helpful knowledge on the nuances between different usages of language in a contract. Up till now, I have revised the draft contract twice, and this week Tim and I will be working on the budget chart.

Before I start to talk about the other assignment, I think it would be helpful to include a short description of NCSC’s International Visitors Education Program. Basically, this program plans study trips and other educational exchanges at the request of donor organizations and foreign governments. For the past years, NCSC designs and conducts observational educational programming for hundreds of international judicial leaders annually. The programs range from one-day seminars, to one-week intensive studies of a specific court administration topic, or multi-week comprehensive studies of the American judicial system. Thus it requires the pro forma contract to be able to fit in different situations and provide guidelines for agreement negotiations between NCSC, the service provider, and different foreign contracting authorities.

The other project I have been working on was a short-form paper on Court Help Centers. I would not say Court Help Center was a completely new concept for me, but I really didn’t know much on its current development. On one hand, the research process was fun, because it was very informational and it was a good way to learn the new technologies that had been applied to court management system and maximally increased the efficiency of courts, for example, the utilization of document assembly program, e-filing program, and their interactions with case management system; On the other hand, the research task was also very tough, because the information on developing countries is scarce, and even for European countries the help centers are run in different ways from those of U.S.. The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) website is a great resource for European countries: the commission publishes annual report to evaluate European judicial systems, and the reports would cover the new development on court technologies in its member countries. In terms of developing countries, USAID is a good resource to look for recent programs and grants that have facilitated the creation of support to litigants. It was almost impossible to find any “real” court help centers in those countries, but legal help and assistance were provided in conjunction with human right advocacy and other legal services for special needs.

By last Friday, I have completed the first draft of the research paper and the third draft of the pro forma contract—both under review by my supervisors. This week John and I got a new assignment: researching on The Bahamas’ gang activities and legislations—seems like a very interesting subject!