Why Hire a Private Attorney? Why Not the Public Defender?
The purpose of this article is not to bash public defenders. Make no mistake about it, there are many public defenders who are great attorneys, with a healthy sense of urgency and much better than private attorneys – and less expensive.
However, one’s freedom cannot be taken for granted. Our criminal justice system is not perfect like we are taught it is in school. Having a criminal record, or being on probation can mean the end of one’s job or loss (or at least suspension) of a professional license such as for realty, dentistry, medicine or law.
In other words, getting the best defense may be critical. With this in mind, maybe a public defender will not suffice.
Anecdotally, my clients who have used public defenders in the past report the following advantages to using a private attorney:
1. Private Attorneys Answer and Return Phone Calls! This is always one of the first things that my clients report, after having experienced representation earlier by a public defender. Such clients also appreciate that our office answers phone calls after hours and before 8:30 a.m. When a client has a burning question, there is nothing better than immediate attention. Public defenders usually do not have their office phone forwarded to their cell phones after hours and, our clients report, they often look forward to court appearances as the only time to answer questions. This can be upsetting and frustrating to a client, especially when the public defender may have ten or twenty other clients equally eager for a few minutes of the public defender’s precious time.
2. Passion. Despite practicing now for close to twenty years, I still truly care that my clients get good deals and our motions are granted. I do not handle 100 cases at a time, so I invest in my client’s future, get to know what he or she is all about and am happy if they are happy. It is important to know a bit about the client’s family and upbringing, especially if they are not a U.S. citizen, are a military veteran with a service-related disability or have a professional license. Many of our clients report that their public defender did not care at all about their case and did not seem to listen to them.
3. Pride. I want to do a great job for several reasons. First, I want my reputation to be one for superior results and listening to my clients. Second, I want the quality of my work to lead to more work, as I am not paid by a salary or regular income. I do not have the security of a regular paycheck no matter how good or how bad my work is. Third, I am hungry for success and want to be known as the best criminal defense attorney. Fourth, I will work longer hours because I know it will pay off, whereas a public defender is paid the same amount whether he or she works 40 hours per week or 70 hours per week.
4. Peace of Mind. When one knows that his or her attorney cares, there is peace of mind that your attorney and you are on the same team. One’s anxiety level decreases. One can sleep at night, knowing the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted. After one spends quality time discussing his or her case with an attorney, one feels calmer and a sense of control.
5. Choice. When one opts for a public defender, one is assigned an attorney. One cannot chose between several public defenders. The assigned public defender may be very good or distracted, apathetic or sloppy. They are inundated with cases, often far too many to handle as well as they want. With private counsel, one can interview several attorneys and chose the one that they feel most comfortable with. The old saying, “you get what you pay for” is exemplified far too often in those who regret trying to save money by opting for the public defender, which may be free or close to free. However, the public defender may not help the defendant as much as private counsel can.