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The Difference Between Public Defenders and Private Attorneys

When I was still in law school I practiced law under something called “Rule 15.” Rule 15 allowed law students to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney after the student completed a good portion of law school. My time as a Rule 15 was spent at a large public defender office, working with real clients on real cases. In fact, I tried my first case as a Rule 15.

One thing I used to hear a lot when speaking with clients (particularly those in custody) was that they didn’t need a public defender because they were going to hire a “real lawyer.” The notion that a public defender is not a “real lawyer” could not be further from the truth. Most public defenders are dedicated civil servants who care deeply about their job, their clients, and justice.

So why shouldn’t everyone pick a public defender over a private attorney? The answer is simple: time. Public defenders are generally over worked, under paid, and underappreciated. They maintain massive caseloads that no attorney should have to manage, and their budgets usually don’t come close to the funds they need to adequately represent indigent clients. The result is predicable: too many clients, not enough time. So, what happens when a lawyer doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to a case? The same thing that happens to you when you have a million things to do and not enough time to do them all…something slips. And when it’s possibly your life you’re talking about, you don’t want anything slipping.

This is where the value of a private attorney becomes apparent. Private attorneys are able to represent fewer clients than public defenders, therefore giving them more time to devote to each case. Fewer clients means more time for research, case review, returning phone calls and emails, and negotiating with the prosecutor. In short, when you pay a private attorney’s fee, you are paying for their time. And any ethical attorney is going to make sure you get what you pay for.

So when making the decision about whether or not to pay for a private attorney, remember this: there are no do-overs on criminal cases. If you don’t get it right the first time, you may regret it for a long time. Money for a private attorney can be difficult to come up with, but there are just some areas in life where you don’t want to cut corners. To speak with our office, contact us today.