Aerial photograph of the Immaculate Conception Chapel

Workshop Helps Prep New Public Defenders

New public defenders from around Ohio received practical lessons designed to help them improve their "nuts and bolts" lawyering skills during a special workshop held in Keller Hall last month.

The workshop, the Pretrial Litigation and New Attorney Training, was coordinated by Adjunct Professor Ira Mickenberg and his nonprofit organization, the National Defender Training Project. The weeklong program was one in a series that the Mickenberg's organization runs in conjunction with the Ohio Public Defender's office, whose director is Tim Young '92. All the workshops are held at Dayton Law.

Thirty public defenders from 15 to 20 different Ohio counties participated in last month's workshop. Mickenberg said that the program was a bit unusual because it focused on helping new lawyers understand what they need know during the first year or two of their careers. "If you teach lawyers how to do it right at the beginning of their career, they develop good habits and keep on doing it," he said.

So the curriculum centered on practical issues, including "nuts-and-bolts skills" like interviewing, applying for bail and bonds, storytelling and investigating. The lawyers also learned how to piece together social histories of their clients and how to work with clients who are from different cultural and racial backgrounds.

The workshop also was designed to "teach beginning lawyers the fundamentals of client-centered service," Mickenberg said. Workshop participants were taught to understand that your client is an "integral part of your case," he said, and "not to view your client as a number."

The workshop stresses that "every case is really important to the client," he said.

In addition to practicing attorneys, two UDSL students participated in the workshop, earning credit during the School's intrasession week.

One of the students, Dan Skinner, a 3L from Columbus who is graduating at the end of the semester, said he learned a number of important skills that will help him represent clients in criminal cases at every level and at every stage of a case. "These skills will undoubtedly help me in the future," he said, "when I am appointed by the court to represent an indigent client or am privately retained to represent someone who is accused of committing a crime."

Skinner said he participated in the workshop to learn more about effectively advocating for clients who are accused of committing a crime. "I am currently working in the Criminal Law Clinic helping represent indigent clients," he said, "and the skills I learned during this workshop have already had an immediate effect in helping me represent our clients."

The workshop's sessions were taught by experienced attorneys and non-lawyers who volunteer to travel from around the country.

"In the public defenders' world nobody has a lot of money," Mickenberg said. That fact inspires many veteran public defenders who are skilled at teaching to regularly volunteer at workshops like those run by the National Defender Training Project.

In addition to running the workshop at UDSL last month, Mickenberg has also organized workshops recently in North Carolina, West Virginia and New Mexico. He estimated he spend 150 days a year on the road running training sessions.

"I've been a public defender and teacher in one form or another for 36 years now," he said. "It's what I do."