Criminal Defense Legal Assistance Initiative

Criminal defense appointments number in the thousands each year and collectively with criminal defense attorneys, public defender staff, and the private bar, many people have been helped through tough times in their lives. We are in the midst of a social justice crisis. The shortage of lawyers is part of a larger pattern of disserving the neediest people in our community. We stand with those providing civil legal services, housing supports, neighborhood efforts at building resilience and preventing violence. 

In seeking help from already busy people, we do not imply fault or responsibility for a problem which we, as members of a civilized society, must meet. Rather we come in humility asking for help in serving deserving clients.

If you are able to accept appointments from the Office of the Public Defender it would be greatly appreciated. If you know of an attorney that could help out, please encourage them to do so.


Menu of Options for Private Law Firm/Volunteer Participation
To enable attorneys to assist in the resolution of this crisis we have assembled the following resources and options and welcome additional suggestions or modifications:

Technical Assistance, Training and Support 
Any lawyer willing to take SPD appointments who would like support in doing so will be able to take advantage of the resources below.

  • Training/Free CLE programming - The Milwaukee Bar Association and the SPD Training Division are working together to offer several free training sessions. These cover a few areas that commonly cause concern for criminal defense attorneys and are structured to allow questions. Suggestions for any type of instruction that you might recommend are welcome.
  • Written Materials - Links will be shared upon request to a select number of highly regarded practice related articles which will provide valuable guidance.
  • Mentoring - Any lawyer who agrees to take cases and who requests some mentoring assistance from the SPD will be appointed to non-conflict cases. That means that you will have a point of contact at the SPD who can be reached with questions. These might include insight into the thinking of the assigned judge or Assistant District Attorney, questions about access to the Milwaukee County Jail or House of Correction, contacts with the Department of Corrections if a hold is involved or a substantive legal question.
  • Any SPD appointment carries with it the ability to seek the appointment of an investigator or expert to assist in the preparation of the defense. We will also expedite the certification process and assist with any questions about billing or other procedures by providing a local point of contact or the contact information for our administrative offices in Madison.

How to Help
Here are the ways that attorneys can assist in helping to resolve the current crisis:

  • Accept PD Appointments - Every case that can be placed with a skilled attorney makes a big difference. SPD will work with any attorney to share information or guidance to facilitate appointments. As more cases are appointed to attorneys new to this process, there is an increased capacity for the experienced criminal lawyers to take on the more involved cases.
  • Limited Term Representation - Our Rules of Professional Responsibility permit Limited Term Representation. We would like to use that capacity to provide an opportunity for an attorney to meet with a client awaiting the appointment of an attorney. These meetings will permit the client to have contact with an attorney. With the guidance we will provide, the lawyer can review the criminal complaint, answer some basic questions, screen for a developing medical or mental health need and to help the SPD identify priorities in appointment that might otherwise be missed.
  • Externships - Historically, the SPD has offered externships for litigation associates who want to have an intensive immersion in casework which will put them on their feet and on the record throughout their externship. A variant would be to permit an extern to return to the SPD as a second chair for a trial they had worked on during their externship. We have an interest in tailor making an externship program or partnership opportunities to meet the needs of the firm involved and the SPD.
  • Intake Assignments - People facing criminal charges have their initial appearances before a Court Commissioner seven days a week. SPD staff attorneys are scheduled in Intake approximately 25-30 days a year. We welcome having attorneys agree to meet with clients and make their Initial Appearances. This is a crucial stage as it is when release decisions are made and screening is done for mental illness and other issues in the case. As we free up some time for staff, we hope to increase their capacity to take cases. Initial Appearances during the pandemic are by Zoom.