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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 during fall break.  After the retreat, participants will meet on Friday afternoons throughout the fall and into the 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, 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 the development of a defense theory of the case.  

In the winter/spring semester, students will learn about plea bargaining, evidence, motions practice, jury selection, trial advocacy (openings, direct examinations, cross examinations, closings, and sentencing hearings), and how to incorporate social science into their advocacy. 

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.  The 2020-2021 Institute will be virtual given the global pandemic.  If you are a current student who is interested in observing, please email Professor Primus at

Below is the schedule of events for the 2020-2021 academic year:

Schedule of Events

Retreat materials:  Public Defense Fundamentals

DAY ONE - Saturday, September 5, 2020

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

10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.    Break

10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.    What Does it Mean to be Client-Centered and How to                                                   Reconcile that with the Rules of Professional                                                                 Responsibility in Individual Cases?

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.      Lunch Break 

1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.        White Saviors, Implicit Bias, and the Importance of                                                     Addressing Race as a Public Defender

3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.        Break

3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.        Client-Centered Ethics in a Volume Practice:  Client                                                       versus Cause Lawyering

5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.        Break

5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.        Panel on Why We Do This Kind of Work

DAY TWO - Sunday, September 6, 2020

8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.      Client Interviewing                  

10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.    Break

10:30 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. - 4:30 p.m.        Break

4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.        Secondary Trauma, Burnout, and Self-Care

DAY THREE - Monday, September 7, 2020

8:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.      Initial Appearances

11:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.    Break

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.    The Different Structures of Indigent Defense                                                                 Delivery Systems

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.      Lunch Break

1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.        Storytelling and Persuasion

3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.        Break

3:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.        Storytelling and Persuasion Workshops        

6:00 p.m.                           Concluding Remarks

Post-Retreat Sessions during First semester: pre-trial advocacy

Using checklists to improve your practice, incorporating social science into criminal defense & Investigations introduction

Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Investigations simulation

Date: Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Witness Statements Introduction

Date: Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Witness Statements Simulation & Preliminary Hearings Introduction

Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Preliminary hearing simulation & discovery introduction

Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Discovery simulation & brady introduction

Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Brady Simulation & self-care boundaries conversation

Date: Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Brainstorming and Fact/theory development introduction

Date: Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Brainstorming and fact/theory development simulation & formulating a defense theory of the case introduction

Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Formulating a defense theory of the case simulation & self-care grounding exercise

Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Second semester Sessions: trial advocacy

Evidence and Objections; motions introduction; self-care reflection exercise

Date: Thursday, January 21, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Motions simulation

Date: Thursday, January 28, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Plea negotiations Introduction & having Difficult conversations exercise

Date: Thursday, February 4, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Plea negotiations simulation & Jury selection introduction

Date: Thursday, February 11, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Jury selection Simulation & opening Statements introduction

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Opening Statement Simulation; Direct examination introduction; and gratitude & closure self-care exercise

Date: Thursday, February 25, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Direct Examination Simulation & cross examination introduction

Date: Thursday, March 4, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Cross Examination Simulation & self-care transition strategies exercise

Date: Thursday, March 11, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Closing arguments Introduction & presumption of innocence/beyond a reasonable doubt simulation

Date: Thursday, March 18, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Closing arguments simulation & Sentencing/collateral consequences Introduction

Date: Thursday, March 25, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Sentencing simulation

Date: Thursday, April 1, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Reflections & Moving Forward

Date: Thursday, April 8, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.