For many years the Defender Association has maintained a strong commitment to training knowledgeable, effective trial litigators and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and the American Bar Association awarded the Association the Clara Shortridge Foltz Award as the most outstanding public defender office in the country. The award committee specifically recognized the Defender training program for its continuing and innovative efforts in the training of attorneys.
The Defender Association's emphasis on the training of new lawyers also reflects the fact that this office takes most of its cases to trial, either to a jury or to a bench trial. The advent of guideline and mandatory sentencing systems limiting the sentencing discretion of judges has diminished the number of guilty pleas entered by clients of this office.
The Defender Association emphasizes and supports the training and development of quality criminal defense advocates and litigators. The Association was one of the first public defender offices in the country to create a Training Unit and to appoint a full time Director of Training. Our Director of Training originates and organizes a broad range of training and development opportunities for every attorney in the office.
The Defender Association's New Attorney Training Program is a year long program that begins in September with a three week in-office and one week in-court training intensive. New attorneys receive numerous training manuals and booklets that cover important substantive areas including: Defender practice and procedures, substantive statutory, case and suppression law, sentencing law and practice, and personnel policies and procedures. The four week intensive also includes the Defender Trial Advocacy Program which uses the office's own case problems and which employs training/coaching techniques modeled after the National Criminal Defense College and the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. New assistant defenders also learn interview techniques by working in a supervised setting, and they have the opportunity to observe various courtroom operations and to discuss and analyze what they have observed. The latter part of our four week intensive also emphasizes sentencing law, guideline and mandatory sentencing systems, and their impact on case planning and preparation.
New attorney training also include weekly follow-up advocacy training meetings that, in a practical way, continue to prepare attorneys for courtroom assignments first at felony preliminary hearings and, later in the year, at misdemeanor bench trials.
Through our in-court training programs, whenever an attorney enters a new courtroom assignment rotation, a supervisory attorney accompanies the new lawyer to court as part of the training on witness examination and courtroom management techniques. That supervisor observes and critiques the lawyer's in-court performance. Supervision continues beyond the first assignment week. Supervisory attorneys are always available for questions, advice, and consultation, and supervisors will return to court to watch and critique courtroom performance.
The Training Department also offers continuing legal education seminars which cover a wide range of substantive and procedural issues as well as trial tactics and advocacy techniques. Defender attorneys are frequently the first lawyers in the Commonwealth to receive organized training on new rules of criminal procedure and significant new cases of changes in pertinent criminal statutes. Programs include presentations by our experienced in-house experts and talks by guest experts as well as demonstrations and discussions on relevant topics.
Whenever possible, the Defender Association supports our attorney and professional staff by sending them to conferences and to training programs presented by outside providers. Attorneys have attended programs offered by the National Criminal Defense College, the National and Pennsylvania Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Bar Association, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the National Defender Training Project, and many more.
Mandatory Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court requires all Pennsylvania Bar members to obtain continuing legal education credits during the attorney's "compliance year."
The Supreme Court's Continuing Legal Education Board, recognizing the Association's long and continuing commitment to training excellence, has designated the Defender Association an "Accredited Continuing Legal Education Provider." The Defender Association was the first (1992) law firm in the state to achieve such a designation.
Throughout the year, the Defender Association sponsors mandatory continuing legal education programs for Pennsylvania C.L.E. credit compliance. These seminars frequently feature nationally known experts on a variety of topic: advocacy skills, ethics, scientific evidence, expert witness evidence, etc.