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Should I hire a lawyer instead of keeping my public defender?

Facing criminal charges can be incredibly stressful, and one of the most important decisions you will need to make is how to secure legal representation. Should you hire a private attorney or rely on a court-appointed lawyer? This post will clarify some common misunderstandings about public defenders, highlight the differences between public defenders and private attorneys, and offer guidance on selecting the right legal representation for your situation.

Understanding Public Defenders

A public defender is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent defendants who cannot afford to hire private counsel. Before becoming a public defender, I, like many others, was unaware of the role they play in the legal system. The federal right to court-appointed counsel was established in the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which mandated that if a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government is obligated to provide one at no cost. This applies only to cases where the defendant faces potential incarceration.

Common Misconceptions

Many people incorrectly use the term "public defender" to refer to any court-appointed lawyer, but this can cause confusion. Private attorneys may contract with a jurisdiction to take on court-appointed cases but are still considered private attorneys, not public defenders. Public defenders are salaried employees of public defender offices, whereas private attorneys are paid by the case or by the hour.

Key Differences

Public defenders and private attorneys have several key differences. Private attorneys can choose their cases and manage them as they see fit, while public defenders work in larger organizations with specific hierarchies and processes. Public defender offices often have access to resources like in-house investigators and paralegals that private attorneys may not. Both public defenders and private contract attorneys are licensed, barred, and educated in the law, but public defenders often have larger caseloads and spend more time in court.

Choosing Legal Representation

When deciding between hiring a lawyer or relying on a court-appointed one, consider several factors. The most obvious is cost—hiring a private attorney can be expensive, while court-appointed counsel is free to the defendant. However, the cost does not necessarily reflect the quality of representation. There are exceptional and subpar lawyers in both the public and private sectors. The key difference lies in choice; defendants cannot choose their court-appointed counsel, but they can choose their private attorney.

Financial Incentives

Private attorneys have a financial incentive to satisfy their clients, as their business depends on client satisfaction. Public defenders receive cases regardless of client satisfaction, so their focus is on providing fair and equal attention to all clients. This means that court-appointed clients may not receive the same level of attention as those who hire private attorneys. Additionally, public defenders often have larger caseloads, which can limit the time they can dedicate to each case.

Other Expenses

Besides attorney fees, there are other expenses related to criminal cases, such as ordering transcripts, hiring investigators, and engaging experts. These costs are usually covered by the client when hiring a private attorney but are typically covered by the court when a public defender is appointed. It is essential to discuss these costs and understand who will be responsible for them before making a decision.


The decision to hire a private attorney or rely on a court-appointed one depends on your financial situation and comfort level. It is crucial to carefully weigh the pros and cons and consider your unique situation before making a decision. The most important thing is to have an attorney who understands your case, cares about the outcome, and has the necessary expertise.

Take Action Now!

If you need more guidance or have specific questions about your case, don't hesitate to seek help. I am here to assist you in any way I can. Contact me today to schedule a consultation and discuss your options. Your future may depend on the decisions you make today, so don’t delay. Customize this call to action as needed, and let me know if there are any changes or additions you would like to make.

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