Should I Hire a Private Attorney? … Or Use the Public Defender?

March 28, 2013 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

An American judge talking to a lawyer.

If you’re in desperate need of legal representation you may feel like running to the nearest lawyer that you can find.  Decisions like these that are made under stress can often not be wise ones.  It is imperative to understand the differences between the different types of legal representatives that are available for you and to make an informed decision before deciding on a lawyer.  There are two basic groups of lawyers to choose from, private attorneys and public defenders.  The differences between the two can seem to be very small and even nonexistent but the decision to hire one over the other could possibly make a drastic impact on the outcome of your court case. 

First, you need to qualify for a public defender before you believe that you can get a ‘free’ attorney.  To qualify you must fill out an application and show that you are not in a position to afford an attorney.  Even having a public defender represent you can require application fees that can range up to $200.

A public defender is often forced to take on a large caseload, as he or she is a court-appointed attorney.  The public defender may also have a limited variety of resources as compared to a private attorney and the offices of public defenders across the country are often the victims of budget cuts and other financial constraints.

Public defenders are often paid a significantly lower salary than a private attorney and are usually swamped with a much larger workload.  This might result in the public defender being unable to spend the desired amount of time on each case that they are assigned.  A public defender is usually obligated to take every case that they are offered and will not usually refuse a case.  As a result of this caseload, public defenders often do not meet their clients prior to court and won’t always have the time to return your telephone calls. 

Benefits of Hiring a Private Attorney

While being a public defender does not necessarily mean that you have a lack of experience, many start out their careers working simple misdemeanor cases and it is only through experience that they progress to cases with more severe consequences.  Unfortunately, when you go with the public defender, you don’t get to choose which attorney you get.  You will be stuck with whatever attorney is assigned to your case.

Private attorneys, on the other hand, tend to have a more balanced caseload as compared to a public defender and therefore can devote more time and effort into each case that they decide to take.

One of the most important factors is that a private attorney can dedicate time to handling your case and is available to field your questions and consult you about your case.  Private attorneys can focus on key aspects of your case and can often hire private investigators to inquire about certain aspects of your case or gather crucial evidence.  A private attorney can devote the necessary amount of time and effort into each individual case because they have the ability to choose which cases they take.

This means that by taking on the case an attorney is telling the client they have the time to handle the matter effectively.  A public defender is often forced by time and money limitations to limit the amount time they devote to each client. Good private attorneys are always willing and able to make themselves more available for communication and counsel with their clients.

Therefore, if you want an attorney that will be able to devote more time and resources to your case to try and ensure the best outcome possible, you might consider hiring a private attorney which you should carefully vet before making your selection.  This is a very serious consideration if you might lose your job or job prospects as a result of having a criminal record and even more weighty in a state like New York that has no expungement or manner to remove or seal a criminal record (it is yours for life).