Public Defender Training Institute

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​​​​​​​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, preliminary hearings, and developing a theory of the case.  

In the winter/spring semester, students will learn about 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 2023-2024 academic year:​

Schedule of Events

Retreat Materials:  Public Defense Fundamentals

DAY ONE - Saturday, September 2, 2023

​​8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.  
The Role of the Public Defender
10:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m
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. 
1:15 pm – 3:15 pm
White Saviors, Implicit Bias, and the Importance of Addressing Race as a Public Defender
3:15 pm – 3:30 pm 
3:30 pm – 3:45 pm 
Discussion of How to Use Checklists to Improve Your Practice
3:45 pm – 5:15 pm
Client versus Cause Lawyering & Culture in Public Defender Offices:  Finding the Right Office, Handling Volume, and How to Change Culture
 5:15 pm – 5:30 pm
5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Panel on Why We Do This Kind of Work

DAY TWO - Sunday, September 3, 2023

8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.   ​
Client Interviewing    
10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.    
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.     
​1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Bond Review Hearings     
4:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. 
4:15 pm – 6:15 pm
Secondary Trauma, Moral Injury, and Self-Care

DAY THREE - Monday, September 4, 2023

8:30 am – 11:45 am  
Initial Appearances
11:45 am – 12:45 pm 
12:45 pm – 2:45 pm 
Storytelling and Persuasion
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm
3:00 pm – 4:3​0 pm
Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops (Part One)
4:30 pm – 4:45 pm 
4:45 pm – 6:15 pm  
Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops (Part Two)
6:15 pm 
Concluding Remarks

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

Incorporating Social Science into Criminal Defense & Investigations Introduction

Date: Friday, September 15th, 2023                ​
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Investigations Simulation & Self-Care Check In​

Date: Friday, September 22, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Witness Statements Introduction & Self Care:  Third Thing

Date: Friday, September 29, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Witness Statements Simulation & Preliminary Hearings Introduction​

Date: Friday, October 6, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Preliminary Hearing Simulation, Discovery Introduction, & Self-Care:  Boundaries/Transitions​

Date: Friday, October 20, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Discovery Simulation & Brady Introduction

Date: Friday, November 3, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Brady Simulation, Organizing Your Caseload, & Self-Care​

Date: Friday, November 10, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Introduction to Defense Theory and Theme

Date: Friday, November 17, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Defense Theory and Theme, Trial Plan, & Introduction to Evidence and Objections

Date: Friday, December 1, 2023
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Second Semester Sessions: Trial Advocacy

Motions & Objections Simulation & Self-Care: Resilient Thinking

Date: Friday, January 12, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Plea Negotiations Introduction & Self-Care: Having Difficult Conversations

Date: Friday, January 19, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Plea Negotiations Simulation & Introduction to Voir Dire​

Date: Friday, January 26, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Voir Dire Simulation & Introduction to Opening Statements

Date: Friday, February 2, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Opening Statement Simulation & Self-Care: Gratitude

Date: Friday, February 9, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Direct Examination Introduction & Self-Care: Sleep, Nutrition, & Exercise

Date: Friday, February 16, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Direct Examination Simulation & Public Defense Skills and Growth Assessment

Date: Friday, February 23, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Cross Examination Introduction & Self-Care Check In

Date: Friday, March 8, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Cross Examination Simulation

Date: Friday, March 15, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Introduction to Closing Arguments & Self-Care Conversation: Supervisors

Date: Friday, March 22, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Closing Argument Simulation & Introduction to Sentencing and Collateral Consequences

Date: Friday, March 29, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Sentencing Simulation

Date: Friday, April 5, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Reflections, Wellness, & Moving Forward

Date: Friday, April 12, 2024
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.​​​