Indigent Defense Project


The goal of the Indigent Defense Project is to promote the improvement in the administration of justice by striving to make sure that each indigent criminal defendant is represented professionally and with dignity. Working hand in hand with the Training Director of Metropolitan Public Defender (MPD) and the Executive Director of the OJRC, law school students learn the knowledge and skills required to handle a criminal case. Students work on real criminal cases and participate in the development of cases in real time, exploring the complexities of the criminal justice system by working in all areas of criminal defense practice.  Students work on a full range of projects from motions and memoranda to trial preparation and direct client representation (CLS students only). Students work to ensure that each criminal defendant is provided with zealous advocacy and quality representation.

To be eligible to participate in the IDP you must be a full or part time law student available to work in person in Portland, Oregon.

Student Opportunities (4-6 Students):

  • 3L students are eligible to apply for a clerkship position with the Oregon Justice Resource Center and work pro bono as an Indigent Defense Project Law Clerk. This position requires a commitment for the entire academic year (Fall/Spring) and 15 hours a week. 3L students will write motions and do research on a full range of cases, including felonies. Certified law students will take full responsibility for some facets of ongoing criminal cases. For example, students may write and argue motions in court, meet with and counsel clients, represent clients at pretrial and plea hearings, assist with trial development, preparation and investigation and, under the supervision of the trial attorney, handle components of jury and bench trials. Prerequisite: Indigent Defense Project Training and students must qualify for Oregon Supreme Court Student Appearance Rules. Preference will be given to those students who have taken Criminal Procedure II and Criminal Law.
  • 2L students are eligible to apply for an internship position with the Oregon Justice Resource Center and work pro bono as an Indigent Defense Project Intern. This position requires a commitment for the entire academic year (Fall/Spring) and 10-15 hours a week. 2L students will write motions, do research and assist in trial preparation on a full range of cases including misdemeanors, felonies, delinquencies, dependencies, civil commitments and capital cases. An emphasis will be put on gaining an understanding of the different arenas and how to thing about common concepts, like "cross examination", in different ways peculiar to the setting. 2LS will also learn how to work with and understand drug addicted and mentally ill clients. Finally, 2LS will be assigned to specific defense attorneys the whole year and will be expected to assist in trials as they occur. Prerequisite: Indigent Defense Project Training.
  • 1L students are eligible, after completion of one semester of law school, to apply for a volunteer position with the Oregon Justice Resource Center and work as an Indigent Defense Project Volunteer. This position requires a commitment for at least one semester (Spring) and 10 hours a week. 1L students will start out by writing memoranda on general legal and legislativ issues and progress to writing case-specific suppression and evidentiary motions that they can see argued at trial. Prerequisite: Indigent Defense Project Training.

Students working with the OJRC in the Indigent Defense Project will be expected to meet at least twice a week downtown Portland (day and time tbd) and weekly with OJRC staff at the OJRC office (located on the L&C undergrad campus). The OJRC reserves the right to alter the total number of participants in the IDP and to alter the number of 2Ls and 3Ls participating in the IDP.

Training for the Indigent Defense Project will have six components:

First, every student must attend a full day seminar on Oregon criminal law, Oregon search and seizure law, Oregon sentencing law, and Oregon trial procedure. The point of the seminar is not to teach the details but rather to give students a sense of the overall structure of each body of law and the big picture ways that Oregon stand out from Federal law. Further students will be introduced to the various material, checklists, guides and manuals that defense attorneys at MPD regularly use.

Second, the Project Directors will walk each year's cohort through a structured class over the course of the academic year. The class will take two hours a month. The point of the class is to build the practical legal skills requires for criminal defense practice. 1Ls will focus on learning how to read actual legal cases (rather than case blurbs), how to do legal and legislative research in Oregon, how to write persuasively, and how to build a case for trial. 2Ls will learn how to think like a trial lawyer, how to prepare specific facets of a trial, how to use every possible weapon and body of law in a coordinated, holistic way, how to create themes, theories and narratives for a trial, and how to use motions strategically. 3Ls will be taught how to interview and counsel clients, how to handle themselves in court, how to see the larger dynamic of a trial even while other issues and objections are more immediate, and how to develop more advanced trial skills.

Third, each student will attend the two-day MPD trial skills class. MPD has been running a trial skills class for new attorneys throughout the state for than 20 years. It is a hands on class designed to give new attorneys basic skills as well as a holistic approach to understanding voir dire, opening statements, direct examination, cross examination, closing arguments and objections. The MPD training director organizes the class and there are generally at least four or five other experienced attorneys involved in direct teaching.

Fourth, MPD has an extremely collaborative, open door culture that encourages questions and brainstorming. New attorneys are taught that if they are not asking lots of questions to lots of attorneys, they are probably missing something important. Moreover, experienced attorneys are taught through the same process that part of the job is to help newer attorneys and students whenever possible.

Fifth, students will be required to check in at least twice a student work-day at MPD. The point of the check-ins is to ensure that students are on the right track for whatever project they are working on and to further build students' knowledge, skills and understanding just a little bit in that moment with material directly related to their project.

Sixth, students will be expected to attend other MPD and OCDLA trainings when possible.

Project Directors: S. Bobbin Singh, Executive Director, Oregon Justice Resource Center; Alex Bassos, Training Director, Metropolitan Public Defender

Metropolitan Public Defender (Partner Organization): Metropolitan Public Defender (MPD) is a multi-county, non-profit public defender handling every type and level of criminal and juvenile case, from misdemeanors to capital cases and delinquencies to dependencies. MPD is the largest publice defender in the state with approximately 150,000 cases annually.

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