Public Defender Training Institute

The MDefenders Public Defender Training Institute is an intensive immersion into the world of indigent defense.  Taught by University of Michigan faculty who are current and/or former public defenders (aided by MDefenders alumni who currently work as public defenders), the Institute will inspire students to understand what calls people to do this kind of work; train them to be excellent, client-centered, zealous advocates for their clients; give them skills to avoid burnout and sustain themselves in a public defense career; introduce them to a community of like-minded students and future defender colleagues; and teach them how to raise the level of representation wherever they go and effectuate systematic and individualized change for their clients.

The Institute is a four-credit program spanning two semesters and kicks off with a three-day intensive retreat at the law school in the fall.  After the retreat, participants will meet once a week throughout the fall and into the winter and spring to continue their training.  

Enrollment in the Institute is limited to 2L & 3L students, but interested MDefenders members (including 1L members) who are not enrolled are still permitted to audit the Institute sessions room space permitting.  Although they will not be called on and will not participate in the simulations, there is still much that they can learn from observing the sessions.  

During the fall semester, students will learn about the role of the public defender, different kinds of public defender work, how public defenders differ from prosecutors and private defense attorneys, how to incorporate social science into their advocacy, how to address race and deal with implicit and explicit racial bias in the system, and how to handle the challenges that public defenders face (including excessive caseloads, secondary trauma, and ethical issues).  In the fall semester, the Institute will also train students on effective pre-trial preparation including skills related to client interviewing, investigation, taking witness statements, obtaining discovery, storytelling and persuasion,  and preliminary hearings.  

In the winter/spring semester, students will learn about developing a theory of the case, plea bargaining, evidence, motions practice, jury selection, and trial advocacy (openings, direct examinations, cross examinations, closings, and sentencing hearings). 

2L and 3L students interested in enrolling in the Institute (or having access to the reading assignments and training materials), should email Professor Primus at  

1L, 2L, and 3L students who are interested in auditing the Institute's sessions (which means watching but not participating) may come to any events they would like to observe.  If you are a current student who is interested in observing, please email Professor Primus at

Below is the schedule of events for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Schedule of Events

Retreat Materials:  Public Defense Fundamentals

DAY ONE - Saturday, October 16, 2021

8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.      The Role of the Public Defender

10:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.     Break

10:15 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.     What Does it Mean to be Client-Centered and How to Reconcile that with the Rules of                                                             Professional Responsibility in Individual Cases?

12:15 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.     Lunch & Discussion of How to Use Checklists to Improve Your Practice

1:15 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.     Client-Centered Ethics in a Volume Practice:  Client versus Cause Lawyering

2:45 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.     Break

3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.     Secondary Trauma, Moral Injury, and Self-Care    

5:00 p.m. - 5:15 p.m.     Break

5:15 p.m. - 6:15 p.m.     Panel on Why We Do This Kind of Work

DAY TWO - Sunday, October 17, 2021

8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.     Client Interviewing                  

10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.    Break

10:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.     How to be Client-Centered When the Client is Mentally Ill or Disabled

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.     Lunch    

1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.     Bond Review Hearings            

4:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.     Break

4:15 p.m. - 6:15 p.m.     White Saviors, Implicit Bias & the Importance of Addressing Race as a Public Defender

DAY THREE - Monday, October 18, 2021

8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.     Storytelling and Persuasion

10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.     Break

10:45 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.     Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops (Part One) 

11:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.     Break

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.     Lunch & Discussion of the Different Structures of Indigent Defense Delivery Systems

1:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.     Break

1:15 p.m. - 2:15 p.m.     Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops (Part Two)

2:15 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.     Break

2:30 p.m. - 5:45 p.m.     Initial Appearances       

5:45 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.     Break

6:00 p.m.     Concluding Remarks

Post-Retreat Sessions during First Semester: Pre-trial Advocacy

Incorporating Social Science into Criminal Defense & Investigations Introduction

Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Investigations Simulation & Witness Statements Introduction

Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Witness Statements Simulation, Preliminary Hearings Introduction, & Self-Care Check In

Date: Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Preliminary Hearings Simulation & Discovery Introduction

Date: Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Discovery Simulation, Brady Introduction, & Self-Care Conversation about Boundaries & Transitions

Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Brady Simulation & Self-Care Check In

Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Second Semester Sessions: Trial Advocacy

Brainstorming, Fact/Theory Development, and How to Formulate A Theory of the Case Introduction & Self-Care Conversation about "Third Thing"

Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Brainstorming , Fact/Theory Development, and Formulating a Theory of the Case Simulation & Evidence, Objections, and Motions Introduction

Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Motions/Objections Simulation & Self-Care Conversation about Gratitude

Date: Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Plea Negotiations Introduction & Having Difficult Conversations Exercise

Date: Tuesday, February 8, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Plea Negotiations Simulation & Jury Selection Introduction

Date: Tuesday, February 15, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Jury Selection Simulation, Opening Statements Introduction, & Public Defense Skills & Growth Assessment

Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Opening Statement Simulation & Direct Examination Introduction

Date: Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Direct Examination Simulation & Cross Examination Introduction

Date: Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Cross Examination Simulation & Self-Care Assessment

Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Closing Arguments Introduction & Presumption of Innocence/Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Simulation

Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Closing Arguments Simulation, Sentencing/Collateral Consequences Introduction, & Self-Care Check In

Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Sentencing Simulation

Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Reflections & Moving Forward

Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.