This content appeared in the 2014 NAPD Annual Report. It is submitted as an article by NAPD member Amanda Mowle.

In its first year, NAPD offered 43 online webinars for public defenders and public defense professionals. Nearly 2,500 members watched these webinars live, and thousands more watched them in archive, where every webinar is uploaded within 2 hours of being conducted. Trainings were provided by 39 different faculty, among them some of the greatest trainers on public defense issues in the country. The topics were diverse, designed to serve various office sizes, delivery mechanisms, and advocates’ professions.

Jeff Sherr, Director of Training, Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, says, “For many public defenders around the country, especially those working in rural counties or as part-time contract attorneys, relevant training is too expensive, too far away and under-promoted in places that have been historically underserved. Without choices, public defenders sit through CLE on real estate law or administrative code when they really wish that they could access the right training to serve their clients.”

The scope of expertise required of public defenders and non-attorney professionals is incredibly diverse. Being skilled in the many nuances of criminal law would be enormous topic enough, but public defenders are also asked to become experts in specialized practices of law including immigration, housing, education, and applicable non-criminal litigation. In order to effectively represent their clients, defenders must provide accurate and comprehensive counsel on the continuing consequences of a criminal conviction as it affects professional licensing, employment, access to public benefits, residency restrictions, civil enfranchisement and a host of other considerations. Further, the circumstances of many indigent defendants require that their attorneys are also experts in adolescent brain development, mental health, mitigation, forensic science and other topics. Often times, clients present unique circumstances that require public defenders to quickly and competently expand their skill set.

NAPD provides relevant training to meet the incredible variety of knowledge that public defenders and public defense professionals require. By recruiting the best trainers in the country to train on topics of their expertise, and archiving them in MyGideon, NAPD’s public defense library, these trainings are affordable, immediately accessible, and directly on point. Some offices use NAPD webinars as the core of their training program, offering them to advocates throughout their office or state, providing a core curriculum of training. Many sole practitioners find them useful because they are otherwise not offered any training program specific for public defense representation.

Jay Hochberg, Supervising Attorney, Ketchikan Public Defender’s Office, says, “In Alaska, budget issues have forced us to cancel our annual statewide conference, so I can’t express how valuable it is to have NAPD. The NAPD webinars, discussions and opportunities to reach out and ask questions are the primary way that we keep on top of current trends and gain deeper appreciation of the law, which is of great benefit both to us and our clients.”

Committing to an expensive training that may or may not be useful is a luxury many public defenders cannot afford. NAPD offers its members a low cost, no-travel, always-available  way to access the skills trainings that the need from hundreds of hours of available training videos. In many cases, the faculty make themselves available for follow-up and additional mentoring or guidance.

Tina Olsen, Chief Appellate Defender, Wyoming Office of the State Public Defender, says, “I spend a ridiculous amount of time in the car, driving all over the state of Wyoming to correctional facilities to visit clients and to litigate in the district courts. NAPD lets me bring articles and trainings with me in podcast form, so I can learn while I drive. I love setting out knowing that I can listen to a topic of interest or hear the training styles of a trainer that I may never meet but greatly respect. When the resources fit the crazy realities of your life, you realize that you are part of something where everybody ‘gets it’.” 

By making training affordable and accessible 24/7 in its virtual library, NAPD trainings foster national networking and provide fail-proof training for defenders, investigators, social workers, administrators and others on topics of supreme relevance, with just the click of a mouse.

Amanda Mowle, Staff Attorney, Rutland County Public Defender’s Office (VT), says, “As a new-ish defender in a very small office, I registered to participate in the Brady webinar and found it impressive – both practical and inspiring. That webinar sold me on the organization and then sparked me to approach Mary Kay (our managing attorney) about the useful resources. The night we joined I stayed up late watching some of the archived webinars – I was hooked. I had actually been having a conversation with our office investigator about OneNote a month or so prior as neither of us knew how to work the program and/or how to have it work for us. The webinar on OneNote for file organization was great and having access to it was so timely – this template for files is something I use now on all of my more complex cases… Having access to these quality resources for $25 is really nothing short of amazing, and feeling connected to the organization as a whole and defenders throughout the country- this really is a benefit that you cannot put a dollar value on.” 

NAPD is responsive to requests for training from members and member organizations, supports the development of local education in places just beginning to develop their training programs, and encourages members to upload their internal trainings in MyGideon to make them available to a far broader community. Currently, in addition to NAPD’s webinars, there are more than 500 hours of training videos from other systems available to NAPD members.