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, 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 the Public Defender Training Institute Fellow, Brenna Twohy, at

Below is the schedule of events for the 2022-2023 academic year:​

Schedule of Events

Retreat Materials:  Public Defense Fundamentals

DAY ONE - Saturday, September 3, 2022

​​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
8:00 pm  9:00 pm 
Social Activity - Karaoke at Blue Karaoke, 3500 W Liberty Rd.

DAY TWO - Sunday, September 4, 2022

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
8:00 pm  9:00 pm
Social Activity ​ Lawn Games and Bonfire (Location TBA)


DAY THREE - Monday, September 5, 2022

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 – 6:00 pm  
Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops (Part Two)
6:00 pm 
Concluding Remarks

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

Incorporating Social Science into Criminal Defense & Investigations Introduction

Date: Monday, September 12th, 2022                ​
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Investigations Simulation & Self-Care Check In​

Date: Monday, September 19, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Witness Statements Introduction & Self Care:  Sleep, Nutrition, & Exercise Conversation

Date: Monday, October 3, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Witness Statements Simulation & Preliminary Hearings Introduction​

Date: Monday, October 10, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

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

Date: Monday, October 24, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Discovery Simulation & Brady Introduction

Date: Monday, October 31, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Brady Simulation, Organizing Your Caseload, & Self-Care:  Resting & Recharging ​

Date: Monday, November 7, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Brainstorming, Fact/Theory Development, and How to Formulate a Theory of the Case Introduction

Date: Monday, November 14, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Theory of the Case & Trial Plan; Self-Care: Resilient Thinking

Date: Monday, November 21, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Evidence & Objections/Motions Introduction

Date: Monday, November 28, 2022
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Second Semester Sessions: Trial Advocacy

Motions/Objections Simulation & Self-Care Check In

Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Plea Negotiations Introduction & Having Difficult Conversations Exercise     ​

Date: Monday, January 23, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Plea Negotiations Simulation & Introduction to Theory-Based Voir Dire​

Date: Monday, January 30, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

De-Selection Voir Dire Training & Self-Care: Gratitude

Date: Monday, February 6, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Jury Selection Simulation, Introduction to Opening Statements and Self-Care Check In

Date: Monday, February 13, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Opening Statement Simulation & Public Defense Skills and Growth Assessment​

Date: Monday, February 20, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Direct Examination Introduction & Self-Care: Third Thing

Date: Monday, March 6, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Direct Examination Simulation

Date: Monday, March 13, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Cross Examination Introduction & Self-Care Check In

Date: Monday, March 20, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Cross Examination Simulation & Closing Argument Introduction

Date: Monday, March 27, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Closing Argument Simulation, Sentencing & Collateral Consequences Introduction, and Self-Care Check-In

Date: Monday, April 3, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Sentencing Simulation

Date: Monday, April 10, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.

Reflections & Moving Forward

Date: Monday, April 17, 2023
Time: 4:10 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.