In 2006, the Federal Defender and the District of Minnesota bench joined together to develop what
was to become a nationally-known Second Chair (Mentor) Program. The goal was two-fold: 1) to
provide a structured training program for attorneys new to federal criminal practice that would
ensure the continued high quality of representation provided by the District of Minnesota’s CJA
panel and 2) to include attorneys in that program who were a reflection of the legal community and
the community we serve. It was with these goals of further developing a well-trained and diverse
panel that we entered into this venture.
In 2007, six attorneys were chosen to be members of the first class. The second class, selected in
2011, included ten attorneys and the third class had eleven. The third class completed the
Program in early 2017 and the fourth class, consisting of ten attorneys, was chosen in January of
2017. The backgrounds of the mentees are varied, ranging from solo practitioners practicing
primarily criminal defense in state court, to attorneys at large firms with significant experience in
pre-indictment federal litigation. The cases assigned to the mentees are also varied, ranging in
complexity and subject matter.
Monthly class meetings:
The mentee class meets once a month for a CLE-type training that is designed and provided for
them exclusively. These trainings address substantive federal criminal law, skills development and
practical points for effective representation. Additionally, mentees learn about the agencies
specific to federal criminal practice. Trainers include members of the District Court, CJA panel
members, attorneys from the Federal Defender’s Office and representatives from various federal
agencies, including the U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Clerk’s
Experiential learning is an important part of the Second Chair Training Program. Mentees are
assigned to work on cases with senior attorneys from the Federal Defender’s Office and attorneys
from the CJA Panel. The senior (mentor) attorneys guide mentees through all phases of the case.
Mentees are prepared for and get to participate in a meaningful way in the cases. Ranging from
client interviews through witness examinations and, as necessary, sentencing allocutions, the
casework component provides mentees with important courtroom/case experience.
In the most recent mentee class, every mentee worked on at least three (3) cases. Seven of the
mentees were involved in cases that went to trial and all members of the class participated in
significant evidentiary hearings.
Mentees are compensated at a reduced hourly rate for their work on appointed cases. It is not
anticipated that the rate will be competitive, it is simply an effort to provide some compensation for
the work. No compensation is provided for participating in the monthly training programs.
Benefits to the Mentees:
In addition to the valuable training provided, mentees also have the opportunity to build important
networks that strengthen their practice. Class members build relationships with each other and,
through their exposure to members of the federal criminal defense bar, the federal bench and other
federal court participants, broaden their base of resources, contacts and knowledge. Federal
courtroom experience and strengthening client skills are also benefits mentees gain. Additionally,
due to the significant amount of writing involved in federal practice, the program provides
opportunities to work with a mentor to improve legal writing skills.
Expectations of Mentees:
The selection process for this program is competitive. A commitment to devote the time and effort
necessary to succeed is a basic expectation. The attorneys chosen to participate in the program
must attend the monthly training sessions, participate in the regular training seminars presented by
the Federal Defender’s Office, meet regularly with the Program Coordinator, and work with a
mentor on three assigned cases over a two to three year period.
For more information about this program, please contact the Second Chair Program Coordinator,
Caroline Durham at: (612) 272-9111 or email@example.com