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Our Origin

About Professor Sankoff’s Criminal Defence Essentials

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, Professor Sankoff’s Criminal Defence Essentials (then Professor Sankoff’s Seminars) emerged out of necessity and a desire to make the most out of a terrible situation. With Canadians confined to their homes and courthouses closed, Professor Sankoff invited defence lawyers to make the best of the situation by catching up on some Continuing Professional Development. Every week he hosted 2-3 seminars on Zoom that drew hundreds of viewers. Entry fees went to help charities and businesses affected by the pandemic.

As the pandemic worsened, the seminar series pivoted. The criminal defence bar was suddenly facing a dire summer – and no one was more at risk than law students who normally relied upon this time to pick up valuable learning opportunities (and some money) working at law firms across the country. Highly prized and once secure positions literally evaporated almost overnight. With the courts closed, and no immediate prospect for re-opening, it became difficult for defence lawyers to hire anyone or even keep all the staff they had.


Within days, Professor Sankoff created the 100 Interns Project, setting an ambitious goal of raising $120,000 in funds and job placements to help students across the country. For weeks he taught learning seminars, donating all fees to the project. Many others helped and donated money as well, and by June 2020 one hundred law students had temporary placements, mostly with criminal defence firms. Learn more about the 100 Interns Project, which now enters its third year in conjunction with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

In July 2020, the seminar series altered course again with the goal of becoming a permanent business that provides high quality Continuing Professional Development for criminal litigators. In late 2020, we changed our name to Professor Sankoff’s Criminal Defence Essentials (now shortened to Criminal Defence Essentials), adding new resources for our customers including Cheat Sheets (short research papers on legal topics of interest) and Case Alerts (short weekly videos on important cases, with analysis from Professor Sankoff) as well as our bi-weekly netletter The Beacon, which provides summaries and short analysis of the most important cases.

We are excited to offer a monthly subscription model to keep you in the loop with the best content and the latest news in Criminal Law. 

Instead of having to purchase an Annual Pass for the calendar year,we are now offering a flexible, monthly subscription model which includes exclusive access to ALL CDE materials from 2020 until now, including seminars, recordings and alert materials.

Simple. Convenient. Flexible.

Our Philosophy

Criminal Defence Essentials is built on a number of fundamental principles:

  • HIGH VOLUME/LOW COST: Our goal from Day #1 has been to provide defence lawyers with a great product they can afford. We understand that running a defence practice does not deliver Bay Street revenue, and so we’re not charging Bay Street CPD prices. To make this a viable business, we are counting on the defence bar supporting us in large numbers. Just like the 100 Interns Project, we can keep costs low if enough people join in. Firm passes are also available.
  • THE HIGHEST QUALITY: All of our products are designed to ensure they are practical and intellectually stimulating. Professor Sankoff oversees everything, and creates much of the product himself. He is joined by amazing guests, including leading defence lawyers, professors and judges from across the country. We regularly receive reviews in which 85-95% of attendees award our seminars a 5/5 rating in terms of quality and value.
  • BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE LAW: The criminal law seems to get more complex every day. We want to make it more accessible. In short, our motto is to try and “build better criminal lawyers” – and make the playing field a bit more level. The Crowns have “Crown School”. The defence bar needs good resources as well.
  • DIVERSE: We encourage a diverse offering of subject matter and presenters. Though early seminars reflected Professor Sankoff’s expertise in evidence law, we have evolved to include discussions of criminal procedure, professional management, sentencing and the substantive criminal law. Future seminars will cover topics like bail, ethical concerns and appeals. Every year, we plan to have seminars addressing critical matters relating to Indigenous clients and those from other minority groups. Our seminar presenters  come from a range of different backgrounds. We hope to continue to spotlight younger members of the Bar as well.
  • GREAT VALUE: Our subscription model is a phenomenal value. It provides access to all live seminars, recordings, over one hundred video Case Alerts, case discussions of The Beacon  and multiple Cheat Sheets. 
  • YOUNG LAWYERS PAY LESS: We know it’s tough to start a new practice. That’s why lawyers in their first five years of call (and articling students) can subscribe at a lower rate.
  • GIVING STUDENTS A HEAD START: Law students can subscribe to get access to our materials FOR FREE.
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And There's More....

We have special programs designed to make our products even more accessible for lawyers who need extra help.

The practice of criminal law is not particularly kind to young mothers. We want to change that, to the extent we can. That’s why we will extend free subscriptions to moms taking time off for that important time of life. You might not want to keep in touch with criminal law while you’re away – which is perfectly fine! – but if you want to watch or read a bit for a break from time to time, we’re happy to help. Contact us. We will also extend this to fathers taking time off for this reason.

When this project started, we granted free entry to our seminars to anyone who was struggling to find work. That program is now back in business. If you are between jobs or seriously underemployed – get in touch. We might not be able to hire you, but we’ll provide you with some free skills development. Contact us.

We’ve made creative arrangements with lawyers who are starting out or struggling a bit to build a business. If you’re in that boat, contact us. Our goal is to help people become better lawyers. If you want to learn, we’ll try to come up with an arrangement that works for you.

A few years ago, we launched our program for young lawyers from traditionally underrepresented communities in the defence bar, giving away two free Annual Passes for lawyers who have been in practice for less than five years. One was awarded to an Indigenous lawyer in Ontario, and a second to a visible minority lawyer in Alberta. The year after that, we managed to double that offer (1 Indigenous, 2 Visible minorities, 1 LBGTQ+). We bear the brunt of the cost, but Sponsorships are welcome. If you or your firm would like to contribute, let us know

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