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When we co-founded the Indigent Defense Research Association (IDRA) in 2015, we wanted to create a meeting place for people who share the sense that empirical research has something to contribute to the field of public defense. With over 150 members and counting, IDRA has become a vibrant community of practitioners and researchers who engage via an active listserv, topical monthly conference calls, and the production of white papers and webinars. In addition, IDRA members present papers at conferences of the American Society of Criminology (ASC). Many of the papers in this volume were first presented at the November 2015 ASC conference in Washington D.C. We are immensely grateful to our authors for contributing to this symposium, and are honored to present this collection in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.

For this symposium, we identified three areas in which empirical work on public defense is both of critical importance and yet is also underdeveloped. The first focus area is the research field itself. Interest in empirical study of the defense function has grown in recent years, raising questions about how research agendas are formed and about the potential benefits and risks of implementing those agendas. The opening papers in this volume explore these questions with the aim of providing a framework for the studies that follow. The second focus area involves the experiences of people who need public defense representation. Those experiences can shape perceptions of justice systems in ways that may have profound implications for future behavior and success in life, yet we know very little about these experiences and still less about what defense attorneys can do to influence them. The third focus area is policy change and reform. Calls for policy changes to shore up the right to counsel are frequently heard, but again we know very little about what can lead to success or failure when we design and try to implement those changes.

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