Karen Smolar

Training Director, Committee for Public Counsel Services
Work Cranston RI TPI Attendance: June, 2007
Photo of Karen Smolar


Karen Smolar is the Legal Training Director of the Criminal Practice at the Committee
for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, where she develops and conducts
innovative trial training programs for every public defender and court-appointed attorney
representing the indigent accused statewide. At CPCS, Karen also lends her expertise
to other practice areas in the Training Department to help conceptualize curriculum
across the agency. In addition, Karen is a member of the agency’s Anti-Racism Team,
and she serves as lead on its DEI Recruitment Sub-Committee.

Karen spent her three previous decades representing the indigent accused in New York
City, including twenty years of dedicated work at The Bronx Defenders. Karen spent a
decade their Trial Chief, deservedly earning the informal title of Persuasion Guru.
Karen’s time at The Bronx Defenders was marked by formal and informal brainstorming
of a countless number of cases, as she mentored, trained, and supervised dozens and
dozens of younger public defenders representing clients charged with nearly every
crime imaginable.

Karen’s trial training legacy lives on at The Bronx Defenders, embodied in the
Defenders' Academy, the annual, intensive five-day program that Karen created from
scratch in 2007. The Academy was the first training program in the country to focus on
the intersection between trial skills and performance work, and it continues to attract
and welcome interested attorneys in criminal, family, and civil practices from across the
United States. Many Academy graduates from over the years would acknowledge the
debt they owe to Karen when they speak of having been “Smolarized” in their approach
to trial work.

Since 2017, Karen has also been the co-Dean at the National Criminal Defense
College, America’s preeminent trial training school for criminal defense practitioners.
Prior to her appointment as Dean, Karen had served for a decade on the College’s
faculty as a presenter, lecturer, and small-group leader. Her work at the College allows
her to develop and implement creative programming and pedagogy to train lawyers
from around the country and beyond. Since her Deanship began, Karen has been
especially proud of both the College’s successful efforts to diversify its faculty, staff, and
participants as well as the College curriculum’s new emphasis on racial and social

Karen is herself a renowned lecturer and guest trainer on everything from storytelling to
closing argument, cross-examining expert witnesses to voir dire, having presented at
trainings for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State
Defenders Association, and many other state-wide public defender offices around the
country. Karen also has more than a decade of experience teaching in law school
classrooms. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Law at Roger Williams University
School of Law in Rhode Island, where she is a sought-after Trial Advocacy Instructor
and where she coaches the school’s Trial Team. Before moving to Rhode Island, Karen
served in similar positions at St. John’s School of Law in New York and at Seton Hall
Law School in New Jersey.