OSB Indigent Defense Task Force III Report

Introduction   Summary   Types of Providers   Staffing   Geographic Analysis   Types of Cases   Post Conviction Proceedings   Conclusions, Goals and Recommendations


Larger firms, particularly public defender offices, are able to provide far superior levels of training and supervision through institutionalized mentoring programs and formalized seminar presentations. The larger defender offices have a practice of rotating even their most experienced attorneys through misdemeanor and juvenile caseloads to provide peer assistance to younger attorneys; the practice also allows the more experienced attorneys to reduce their stress with periods of less complex litigation. Public defender offices and consortia are reported to be the provider models least likely to appoint inexperienced attorneys to cases they are not equipped to handle.

Larger consortia are by nature less susceptible to training and mentoring deficiencies than small contract firms: consortia tend to be comprised of older, experienced attorneys mostly sole practitioners - who have formed voluntary associations to share the administrative burdens of indigent defense without impeding the ability of the individual attorney members to pursue private practices. Therefore, the nature of the attorneys involved in consortia allows beneficial collaboration and oversight without the need for the extensive training and mentoring that inexperienced attorneys require.

In smaller offices, training resources are limited and fewer mentors are available. More experienced attorneys in the firm may not have the time to provide ongoing assistance to the newer attorneys if, rather than serving primarily as administrators, they carry their own full caseloads. The problem is compounded by the high turnover rate many contract firms experience: once a staff attorney gains trial experience, the lawyer is likely to leave, commanding a higher salary and better prospects for advancement in the private sector than the indigent defense system will provide. The constant hiring cycle makes it that much more difficult for the contract firm administrators to provide meaningful training and supervision.

Although public defender offices have the most formalized systems in place, consortia and contractors often provide mentoring to new attorneys and employ rotation models that allow newer members to observe and be observed by the more experienced attorney members. However, the common perception is that the larger the organization, the more likely it is that effective mentoring and peer support mechanisms will allow deficiencies to be recognized and dealt with in-house before serious mistakes occur.

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