Most people with limited income or resources are forced to accept a court-appointed attorney, the public defender. They often have myriad of questions such as; whether public defenders are real attorneys with real bar licenses, were they not able to get other jobs, or are they merely paralegals or law students.
Public defenders are not only real attorneys, but they are often some of the best. They went to real law schools, usually the very best schools, and passed the same bar exam as the rest of us attorneys. They often go into the field of public defense due to a passion, not as a default. They are highly-committed individuals with more drive and passion than your average attorney. They often have huge caseloads and are exposed to vast array of criminals cases. As a result, they become seasoned rather quickly.
If that's so, why do they have such bad image in the public eye?
Public defenders are to the legal field as battle field trauma surgeons are to the field of medicine. They are inundated with high caseloads, hardly compensated in proportion to their efforts, and have limited resources such as personal assistants or paralegals. Because of their high caseloads and limited time, they are forced to prioritize cases, much like the surgeons in war. If you're in dire need, you'll get some attention. Otherwise, if you're facing minor charges as compared to other defendants, you may not get the full attention as a serious felony offender facing a strike case. Even those cases are so numerous that they often get the bare minimum effort.
However, those supposed "minor charges" are not so minor to you, if you are the one accused of a crime. It's your life! For you, it's a make-it-or-break-it deal because your future rests on it. Your criminal record could affect your immigration status, career, family life, 2nd Amendment (gun ownership), and freedom!
Money doesn't buy justice but it does help with increasing your odds when you face a criminal charge. The reason for that is conscientious attorneys, like myself, will take only limited number of cases to make sure your case is given the attention it needs. We generally don't have supervisors like public defenders who keep piling cases on the desks of associate public defenders on a daily basis. Keep in mind that some private attorneys will become greedy and accepts more cases than they could reasonably handle. It's your job to get a sense of how stressed and over-worked the attorney seems. You should ask about their caseload. But if you find that right balance in a private attorney, you'll generally do better in the long run.
The reason you get more out of a private attorney is that we customarily charge flat fee/flat retainers as opposed to hourly rates. Flat retainers force us to do all of the work for that one fixed amount, regardless of how many hours it takes us to complete the task. If criminal defense attorneys charged hourly, even the defense of a basic first-offense misdemeanor DUI charge could push your legal bills past $15,000!
Private criminal defense attorneys have the same passion for their field as public defenders but we can control our caseloads, the types of cases we take and how much we charge. This gives us an ideal work/life balance and keeps us rather content. A content attorney thinks and works better. As a result, your case will get the attention it deserves.
If you feel you would like a private attorney but cannot afford one, call for a free consult anyway. We went into criminal defense because we have a heart. At least come in to get a quote and see if it's truly not within your budget. I think you'd be surprised to find out how much some of us want to help you.
But if you end up going with a public defender, don't worry. You'll have a really good attorney. They will care about you and will attempt to help you. I assure you they are some of the more passionate and zealous advocates around. It's too bad the system doesn't recognize their work and overburdens them.
This information shall not be deemed legal advice nor shall it create any attorney-client relationship. It is merely for informational purposes or academic purposes.