The NAPD’s Changemakers Forum sparked innovation and collaboration in Salt Lake City, Utah. This creative event brought together a diverse group of public defense leaders for a dynamic exchange of ideas focused on tackling the most pressing challenges in the field.

Unlike traditional conferences, the Changemakers Forum prioritized an interactive format that fostered collaboration and action planning. Attendees participated in “Spark Presentations” where thought leaders shared their insights and innovative approaches to public defense challenges. “Open Space Sessions” offered a space for organic brainstorming and the creation of concrete action plans for the issues attendees cared about most.

This focus on actionable solutions was energizing. Public defenders everywhere are facing an uphill battle with issues like high workloads, attorney recruitment and retention, and the use of technology. The Changemakers Forum provided a platform to not just discuss these problems but to develop strategies for overcoming them. Kimberly Simmons, Executive Director, Texas RioGrande Public Defender, shared, “I’m leaving here with probably three or four different action plans to focus on different things,” highlighting the practical outcomes of the forum.

Several key themes emerged from the forum:

Emotional Impact and Personal Growth: The forum created a profound impact on attendees, fostering personal growth and deep emotional connections. As Larry Spollen, Supervising Attorney, New York County Defender Services expressed, “I learned a ton…coming out like super confident, loved it, it was awesome.” Savannah Weinstok, Client Services Specialist, Milwaukee Public Defender’s Office, echoed this sentiment, saying, “I feel really humbled and honored that I was able to be included as a mitigation person.”

Technology and Innovation: Many discussions centered on leveraging technology to streamline workflows, improve communication with clients, and gather critical data to advocate for systemic change. Ricardo Garcia, Los Angeles County Public Defender, noted, “This has profoundly changed the way I approach thinking about learning and training,” reflecting the innovative spirit of the forum. Matt Crowell, Regional Trial Director from Missouri added, “We’ve already created a listserv for the NAPD AI technology committee.”

Community Engagement: Building trust and partnerships with community organizations was highlighted to better understand client needs and advocate for broader reforms. Mari David, Deputy Director of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, shared, “It was a really tight-knit group and everybody just kind of fell in line supporting one another,” emphasizing the collaborative atmosphere. Gina Savoie, Regional Trial Division Director, Missouri State Public Defender, stated, “The community that built so quickly over this week and the friendships that I’ve made and the connection, I hope it continues on.”

Managing Caseloads: Attendees explored strategies for handling heavy workloads while ensuring quality representation for each client.

Retention of Public Defenders: Discussions focused on solutions to the high turnover rate within public defense, aiming to create a more sustainable and supportive environment for defenders.

Diversity and Inclusion: The importance of diversity and inclusion was a recurring theme. Alaina Bloodsworth, Executive Director of the Black Public Defender Association,  appreciated the opportunity to discuss ways to build highly diverse offices, saying, “This was also really great to be able to talk to a lot of offices that don’t have much diversity to be able to talk about ways to build that highly diverse office.”

Public defenders are passionate advocates, and the Changemakers Forum equipped them with new ideas, connections, and tools to continue their fight for quality legal representation for all. Join the movement – visit the National Association for Public Defense at to learn more and get involved.