Should Indigent Defense Providers Care About Workload Studies?
In August of 2014, I skeptically attended a workload study conference put on by the National Association for Public Defense in Frankfort, KY. I was skeptical, not because the conference was about workload studies, but because it was about the Delphi methodology for workloads. I was not skeptical about workload studies themselves as the Office of the State Public Defender in Colorado (OSPD) had been successfully using workload studies since The Spangenberg Group (RIP Bob Spangenberg) completed our first one in 1996. The skepticism was over this new-fangled methodology led by accountants and the American Bar Association? How can that be a good thing?
The ABA, primarily represented by Steve Hanlon, and the international accounting firm, RubinBrown, primarily led by Michael T. Lewis and Josh Leesmann, had just completed the Delphi method workload study for the Missouri Public Defender. The depth of the timekeeping and workload data was inspiring and overwhelming. Cat Kelly, now retired Missouri State Public Defender, presented that data and recommendations from the report at the conference. That report, and the rest of the conference started a three-year journey for the Colorado Public Defender system, primarily led by Janene McCabe, that was frustrating and difficult at times, but ultimately, rewarding and successful.
In Colorado our system is funded through general fund dollars by the state legislature. The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) of the Colorado Legislature approves the budgets of all state agencies. OSPD had been presenting workload analysis (NOT caseloads) for over two decades to them so the members of the JBC were accustomed to seeing reliable, data driven budget requests from OSPD. Our budget request and supporting data for Fiscal Year 2019, primarily led by our CFO Karen Porter, this past legislative session was just as compelling as it had been in previous years BECAUSE it was based on workload data, not anecdotal caseload requests.
After the 2014 NAPD Workload Conference, I was lucky enough to have Mr. Hanlon, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Leesmann work with me, Ms. McCabe and Mrs. Porter to establish the case types, tasks and timekeeping necessary to complete the Delphi method of workload analysis to present to the JBC. I promise you it was not as simple as it sounds in this document, but it was well worth the work for our clients and our system. I continue to believe that data is critical for policy and budget decisions; that the best funders and policy makers make data driven decisions and that if the indigent defense community wants to have a credible existence, we must rely on data for budget and policy presentations. We must own the data; let others use anecdotes as data will prevail.
So, should indigent defense providers care about workload studies?
In Fiscal Year 2007, the OSPD’s budget was $38 million and we had 396 full time employees (FTEs). In the next 12 years with the help of the data from our workload studies, the budget increased to $98 million with 872 FTEs. The 2017 Delphi method workload study alone was instrumental in helping OSPD obtain a $7.5 million budget increase and over 50 new FTEs for Fiscal Year 2019.
Yeah, I think you should care.