Is a Public Defender the Same as a Private Attorney?

As a private criminal defense attorney, I cringe when I hear people say disparaging things about public defenders.  People say they are lazy, force clients into plea bargains or even call them “public pretenders.”  These negative connotations are nothing short of insulting for public defenders as well as private attorneys.

Here’s the truth, I have been to countless seminars held by public defenders.  A majority of these attorneys are passionate about their job.  They believe in the justice system and the notion that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. Public defenders went to the same law schools as private attorneys and passed the same bar exams.  They are very good lawyers.

The issue is, what level of service you are expecting.  As a private criminal defense attorney I am able to select which cases I want to handle.  I am fortunate to be at a place in my career where I am not desperate for new cases. My reputation of being an exceptional attorney has afforded me the opportunity to have as much or as little business as I can handle.  I provide quality representation not quantity representation.  I often have potential clients call my office and tell me my rates are expensive.  To that I say, my rates are reflective of our high level of legal training and level of service.  If I provided legal services that everyone in the community could afford, I would be representing everybody in the community.  I want to provide individualized attention and have a limited practice whereby I know each one of my clients, my support staff knows each one of our clients and I want clients to feel comfortable knowing they can call anytime with questions about their case and we will be able to provide answers immediately.

While there are times when a judge will order a person to pay a nominal fine for the assistance of a public defender, most often public defenders are free.  When a service is free, the person providing the service is going to be inundated with customers.  With hundreds of cases, it is unrealistic for a person to know each one of their customers or be intimately familiar with the facts relating to their customers.  It’s not that public defenders don’t care about their clients, public defenders are over worked and underpaid and it is not practical for them to know each one of their clients.  With respect to plea agreements, they are not trying to force people to enter into plea agreements; rather, it’s physically impossible for a select few public defenders to take each of their clients’ cases to trial.  There is simply not enough resources for this.

The adage you get what you pay for is applicable to legal representation.  The more you pay, the better service you will receive.  Please don’t get this confused with the more you pay, the more knowledgeable your attorney may be.  We value our clients.  We understand they compensate us well for our legal services and they deserve nothing but the best from us.  We are always available for our clients.  They can call anytime – weekends and nights – and should expect to receive answers to their questions and concerns.  With all this being said, when your life is on the line, you should hire the best lawyer you can afford.