View Full Version : Public Defender versus Paid Lawyer


Imdone1212
01-25-2009, 06:04 PM
Does anyone have any personal experiences on how much of a difference it makes if you are represented by a public defender or a paid lawyer??

PTO-97580
01-25-2009, 06:36 PM
Basically, it's a crap shoot either way unless you have big bucks and if you do, you dont qualify for a PD. There are some great PD's out there that I wish I would have had rather than the useless one I paid for. Best thing to do is, do yor homework either way and check them out with the state or federal Bars and any other source you can find.

socal mom
01-25-2009, 08:23 PM
I paid a lot of money, actually to two different attorneys who did no good at all, we continually were urging the second one to do his job. If I were doing it again, I think I would use a PD through the preliminary hearing, and then try to find a lawyer who cared enough to work. We interviewed a few, and yes money was a consideration, but I wish I had talked to others who had used him, or found more info. Like outraged said, it is a crap shoot either way. This was for my son. He finally took a plea so in reality the money was for nothing. Good luck

LifeWithout
01-25-2009, 09:24 PM
It also depends on how straightforward the case is, and how many cases your PD currently carries. My husband and I couldn't afford a lawyer, had to keep the PD assigned to us who was retiring and completely disinterested in our case, and he got back to back life without, when we thought he would get second degree murder, so......

Imdone1212
01-26-2009, 05:08 AM
Would it make any difference in getting a better plea bargain?

JurisDoctor
01-26-2009, 10:07 AM
Would it make any difference in getting a better plea bargain?

There are too many variables for any person on this board to be able to tell you with any certainty whether it would make a difference. I will say this, Federal Public Defenders tend to be a great deal more qualified than State Public Defenders. Primarily, because becoming a federal public defender is competitive whereas, becoming a state public defender is not. I think many people don't appreciate the difference between the two, and wrongfully label them both as equal.

If you do get a private attorney, I recommend getting one that routinely practices against the prosecutors in question. It does you very little good to get the best damn Probate attorney, in a criminal case.

Tamm 39
01-28-2009, 01:33 PM
It all depends on the public defender.I had a great experience. He believed in my innocence. My ex had 2 different public defenders they were no good to him. I ended up investigating for himand presented info to both public defenders and he got good deals. not saying I did all the work. But I would suggest if you have a public defender if you are able to bond out try gathering info for your case or have a friend or family member help. . Because they are public defenders they can become overwhelmed with cases.

KB&Boo
01-28-2009, 04:09 PM
I agree- it depends on the PD. Like Tamm 39 said, because they are public defenders, they have a lot of cases. The first PD I dealt with had no concern about me or what happened- I had to sit in his office and refuse to leave before he would talk to me! However, the one that replaced him was great! I'm not sure about the laws where you are, but here you can request another PD if you're not satisfied with the one you were appointed. I had to write the judge a written letter to the judge that was over my case explaining why I wanted a different one. It took me almost 9 months of writing almost every week, but I was finally appointed another one.

Gryphon
01-28-2009, 08:00 PM
I'm not sure about the laws where you are, but here you can request another PD if you're not satisfied with the one you were appointed. I had to write the judge a written letter to the judge that was over my case explaining why I wanted a different one. It took me almost 9 months of writing almost every week, but I was finally appointed another one.
In most if not all states, there is no right to have any particular appointed attorney. In order to get a different appointed attorney the court has to make a finding that there was an inability to communicate with the lawyer or that the lawyer was not providing competent representantion. Of cousr, a judge can do what a Judge wants to do, and sometimes a new lawyer is appointed just so that the noise level and hassle factor both decrease.

Gryphon
01-28-2009, 08:29 PM
One attorney might be better than another on any given case. Some are research gods, some are great with a jury, some can shmooze the behind teh scene's deal, a few can do it all. However, in the abstract a PD and a private lawyer are quite easy to compare and contrast.

PD: Mega experience includes handling hundreds if not thousands of cases before they do a felony; and they typically have a lot of trial experience. The downside is that they might get all that experience in a couple of years
Pvt: Might only handle a few cases at a time, and trial experience happens far less often because of the financial disincentive to go to trial. Many private attorneys quote 2 prices, with the big number being what happens if the case doesn't settle. Of course, some pvt. attornyes are as experienced as PDs (usually because they were PDs, but possibly because they've been around since dirt was invented.).

PD: Tends to be assigned to a particular court with the same regular players. They really get to know the Judge and DA.
Pvt: Knowledge of turf is wildly variable, with better knowledge probably being because they were a PD or a DA; or because they've been around since he invention of dirt.

PD: Expected to go to advanced training, and the office pays.
Pvt: Disincentive to go to out of town classes because it is expensive and multi-day classes mean loss of income if they aren't billing. Not too many pvt. lawyers do a lot of class time.

PD: Money for every expert they can justify to the Judge.
Pvt.: Money for experts so long as the client has plenty of money.

PD:If you think money is a motivator, a PD gets paid ok, but paid very well if they make a career of it. Benefits are worth plenty.
Pvt.: Rich one month, poor the next. Overall, most make more money than PDs so long as they remember that they are a business and act accordingly at all times. Once a lawyer has your money, however, they'll have a "non-refundable retainer" contract. They get to keep the money, so it isn't much of a motivator any more except that to some extent client referrals are important for marketing. Sadly, most people just pick a lawyer out of the yellow pages, so referrals aren't really that big a deal.

PD: Can tell a client the bold bare truth. This can sting. There really isn't a reason to soft sell a case or look for silver linings, so when a PD tells a client what teh future holds, the bad news is up front and center.
Pvt.: Has the time and some inclination to be marketing themselves; so always remember that spoon full of sugar.

PD: No time to talk to family, make social calls, or discuss the case in the abstact. Won't check in with the client to see how they are doing, won't even talk to the client unless there's a darn fine reason to be doing so.
Pvt.: Might have a lot of time to make people feel good if the case load is low and the hourly rate is high.

PD: Went to law school and passed the Bar.
Pvt: Went to law school and passed the Bar.

PD: Like it or not, in all liklihood you get that one and no other. Unless of course the rug gets pulled out and your lawyer is suddenly reassigned to another court.
Pvt.: That's the lawyer you'll have, and you get to pick. Even if you could have picked better, you'll be happier because you got to choose.

PD: May or may not know how to do creative sentencing in drug or mental health cases. Some are social workers, others aren't.
Pvt.: Ditto.

PD: May or may not be expert in forensic sciences, but will have the chance to go to school to learn such things.
Pvt: Ditto; except less continuing education on average.

PD: Might get an over qualified workaholic overachiever, might get a far less experienced lawyer.
Pvt.: Ditto.

only1love
01-29-2009, 03:20 AM
That was very interesting and informative. Too bad I did not know all of that before I spent our life's savings and retirement on a private lawyer who "talked a good plan" but as you said, once he got the money, that was that. The JUDGE dismissed him for ineffective counsel and appointed a federal public defender. I have to say that the FPD deserved every dime that we lost. I honestly hope that he does get a good salary because he really worked very hard on this case and when we went to court it showed. He really fought like a tiger, got the experts as you mentioned, and in the end, got all 4 charges thrown out! He was amazing! He also knew the other people very well, the Prosecutor, judge, probation officer, you name it, he and his team knew them.

Gryphon
01-29-2009, 12:36 PM
Pay for appointed attorneys is variable.
Federal Defenders have a pretty good gig if they stay with the job for a long time; and it is a good resume builder if they want to go private.
State Defenders in CA are really appeals lawyers who don't do much except death penalty cases. It is more of an acedemic type job. It pays pretty well, since there's really no such thing as an entry level position.
CA County Public Defenders get paid peanuts for the 1st 5 years or so; but things improve after that; and after 15 years they are well compensated. CA defenders are better compensated than many states, though; and there a a few states where they get Top-Ramen wages.

The thing is, no Public Defender ever did the job for the money. Most of them couldn't do the job without getting the money, but it isn't the money that motivates them. The stress, long hours, frustration, and aggravation far outweigh the money. These are not people who are altogether money motivated. They are in fact the sort of people who don't even understand the argument that people don't work hard unless they are well paid. Public Defenders share more personality characteristics with Marines than with with most other lawyers. They actually seem to perform better when being abused.
Takes all types, I guess.

Now, don't think that I'm down on the Private bar. I know many excellent private lawyers. If I had the money I'd without question hire a lawyer so I could maximize the chance that I had the right dog in the fight. Then again, I know what I'm doing and wouldn't be basing my selection on the contents of the Yellow Page ad. (The Yellow Page ad is still the #1 way private criminal defense lawyers attract clients. They are very expensive if you want to be competitive and not let the next guy's ad be bigger. Jail mail is also a very effective way to gther clients (sending contact letters advertising services, using the mailing addresses from the jail booking records.) Frankly, you'd be as well off throwing a dart or picking the 1st lawyer who's last name begins with the letter "Z".
I think that it is easier to make a carreer by being a crummy private lawyer than by being a crummy Public Defender because the Private lawyer doesn't have a boss, doesn't usually have office support that amounts to much, isn't supervised, and isn't mentored. The local Bar and bench might all know that a private lawyer is crummy, but that doesn't show up in a Yellow Page ad. If a lawyer markets themselves sufficiently, they'll have plenty of clients. On teh other hand, a crummy Public Defender is constantly in contact with other lawyers and judges who all have a say in whether or not the lawyer has a job or advances; and therefore a crummy PD is more likley to be known, loathed, and fired.

That was very interesting and informative. Too bad I did not know all of that before I spent our life's savings and retirement on a private lawyer who "talked a good plan" but as you said, once he got the money, that was that. The JUDGE dismissed him for ineffective counsel and appointed a federal public defender. I have to say that the FPD deserved every dime that we lost. I honestly hope that he does get a good salary because he really worked very hard on this case and when we went to court it showed. He really fought like a tiger, got the experts as you mentioned, and in the end, got all 4 charges thrown out! He was amazing! He also knew the other people very well, the Prosecutor, judge, probation officer, you name it, he and his team knew them.