Thank You, Kevin Bowling, MSJA’78, for Your Dedicated Service!

May 17, 2012

Thank you, Kevin Bowling, for your dedicated service to the courts and congratulations on your election to the NACM presidency!

Current NACM President, Kevin Bowling, graduated from the Master of Science in Judicial Administration (MSJA) program in 1978 and has over 30 years of experience in the judicial system. Kevin is currently the Court Administrator for the 20th Judicial Circuit Court and Ottawa County Probate court, and also serves as an attorney referee for a juvenile court. Kevin’s career has taken some interesting and unexpected turns; he reflects on how the MSJA impacted his career, while imparting some pearls of wisdom to the new generation of MSLAs.

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As an undergraduate, Kevin studied political science and public administration at Providence College and had envisioned himself beginning law school immediately thereafter. Kevin’s pre-law advisor informed him of a unique program out in Denver: the MSJA program which, at the time, was run by Harry Lawson. The advisor assured Kevin that if he could survive Harry Lawson, he was guaranteed a job following graduation. Kevin assumed the challenge and, needless to say, survived. He attests that while Harry was harsh, he was a great mentor and pushed him to discover things on his own.

Kevin’s initial intended career path was to defend juvenile delinquents. He planned on completing his JD and moving back to his home state of Rhode Island to do trial work in this area. Instead, after earning his MSJA at the University of Denver, followed by his JD at Cooley Law School in Michigan, Kevin went to work for the Michigan Supreme Court, beginning his 30 years of service to the courts. Since then, he has had experience at almost every court level, except federal. In fact, his diverse experience includes time in the National Center for State Courts, in Michigan as a state judicial educator, and in Nigeria doing international law work. Kevin agrees he has been fortunate to experience the judiciary from a number of different perspectives and he thanks the MSJA for preparing him to wear all of those different hats.

Kevin learned a number of things while earning his MSJA. First and foremost, Harry Lawson taught him that it does not work to be a dualistic thinker in the courts. “There is a lot of grey,” Kevin says, “and rarely black and white.” He further states, to be an effective administrator, “one must be able to work with people at all levels, and one must not be rigid. Flexibility is extremely important in administration. Help others when you can. Also, learn the skills associated with individual projects and jobs.” To all MSLAs and administrators, “do your homework, do it carefully, and always cover your bases.”

Kevin has faced a few challenges throughout his career and explains that the lessons learned in the MSJA were instrumental in helping to address and overcome these issues. Leadership in any organization is challenging, but in the courts there can be “a vacuum of leadership at the highest level.” Administratively, the repercussions from this can be difficult. Some court leaders are not as familiar with administration as others and this can be challenging to overcome. Leaders must be strategic thinkers and visionaries; “it is great leaders that make the courts a great place to work.” Limited resources are also a challenge. Kevin contends that if the courts are not properly funded, then justice is affected; ultimately affecting the individual freedoms of the public. The ability to think critically and strategically, communicate effectively and with purpose, and to be amenable to change is how he has overcome his greatest obstacles and adapted to challenges unforeseen. Kevin says, “all of my experiences kick back to my time in Denver.”

For the new generation of MSLA students: Kevin believes there are critical skills you will need to be successful in your administrative careers. You will need basic knowledge and an understanding of the courts and you should be eager and willing to learn. He emphasizes that communication skills are also vitally important and cannot be overstated. This includes speaking, writing, and the ability to listen and interact with others. Honed communication skills are absolutely crucial for your career to be successful. The legal landscape is changing; you must bring problem-solving skills and vast amounts of creativity to the table. Newer and older generations must adapt to the changes in the field, making these skills critical for the future of our courts. Finally, relationships are the crux of success. You should spend time developing your interpersonal and negotiation skills, as they will be put to good and frequent use.

For all current MSLA students, Kevin ended with this piece of advice:

“Be persistent and open to continuing your learning. Courts all over need bright, energetic MSLA students. Be flexible and appropriately aggressive. Don’t ever be afraid to get more experience.”