10 Reasons It Doesn’t Pay to be a Public Defender

I saw this article on LifeReboot.com and decided to do a version pertaining to PD’s.

10. Most of your accomplishments are invisible and not attributed to you.

Most clients and their families do not understand that a lot what goes on in a criminal case is outside the courtroom. From the legal research, the investigation, the plea negotiations, the formulation of the defense, drafting motions, getting witnesses to court, these are things that clients do not see first hand. Also, even with all the hard work that you put into a case, you are not given credit for it. Usually, the client is bitter that it took so long for the world to see their innocence or they attribute it to divine intervention or to some other reason. It couldn’t have been you. You are a just a public pretender. You work for the state. Yeah, right.

9. Every conservation you have with a client is roughly the same.

I know that I offend the true believers with this idea. However, a lot of the conservations you have with clients tend to follow certain patterns or certain norms.


Drug Cases – It’s not my dope. These (pants, coat, purse, wallet) is not mine, even though I was wearing it or had it on my person. It is just a residue on a pipe. It ain’t going to test positive for drugs. I did not know it was there.

Sex Cases – I didn’t do it. She said she was 16. She is lying. She is a slut. Her family hates me.

The trick in this line of work is to find the way to find out whether the client is telling the truth or just lying to you. In my world, trust but verify.

8. You are an all-knowing expert on every aspect of the law, both criminal and civil.

I have been asked about estate planning, corporate law, family law, and almost everything in between. Look, I am a criminal defense attorney. Don’t ask me about how to fight a child support order, how to do a divorce or some other civil crap. If I liked that kind of law, I would be doing it, and not defending your ass.

7. Your Talents are Forcibly Undervalued and Compensated.

Most taxpayers resent our presence in the first place (until they need us). So, they have no problem paying us a small penance and handle a large caseload. Hell, they are all guilty anyway; so why bother work on a case? Well, jackass, while I have reservations about my clients’ ability to be truthful, that does not relieve me of my professional duty to investigate the case and force the State to live up to their obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

6. You are never allowed a moment’s peace.

Look people, I need time away from the office to regain what semblance of sanity and of a life that I have left. Your phone calls and emails on a Sunday afternoon do nothing to endear me to you. Also, if you see me in grocery store, you really don’t want to talk to me about your case there because a slight problem, no confidentiality. Furthermore, the people standing around us may end up on your jury.

5. People ask you to perform miracles.

No matter how bad the facts are, no matter how bad the client’s record is, no matter that the law is simply flat against your client, all of them want the case dismissed due to a lack of evidence, a bond to get out to support his/her mother, father, child, et cetera, probation, water turned into wine, raise the dead, turn back time . . . . .

Let’s something straight, if you have a lengthy record, the State is going to want to send your happy little ass to prison. If the facts are against you, the State is not going to dismiss the case. If the law is against you on a particular issue, your half-baked motion is going to be denied. If you are charged with armed robbery, trafficking in coke, repeatedly violated a court order prohibiting contact with your ex-wife, you ain’t gettin’ a bond. Suck it up.

4. Your assumed “All Knowing” status sets you up to let people down.

When people think that you can make chicken salad out of chicken shit, it is hard to explain to them that they are going to jail, even for a petty offense. Listen up people, unless a statute makes a crime punishable only by a fine, confinement is always a possibility with any criminal offense, no matter the severity of the offense. A corollary of this is the following: the more serve the crime, the likelihood of you going to prison goes up as well, even thought this may be your first offense. Get over it.

3. You Possess Unlimited Responsibility (i.e., No matter what, it is always your fault)

To the client (or his family, friends, co-workers, etc.) it is always your fault when the following happens:

a.) he did not get a bond for having repeated sexual encounters with a 14 year old,

b.) he got his probation revoked and sent to prison, despite the fact that he has not done a damn thing while on probation,

c.) he did not get probation, despite his twenty page criminal history

d.) his case is not dismissed, when there is a confession from the client, eyewitnesses that saw him commit the offense, and he has the smoking gun on his person

The list can go on and on, but it boils down to this simple idea: if the client did not get what he wanted, it is your fault.

I am of the firm opinion that most of my clients (and their families) believe that if I chant a particular phrase or two, then everything will be alright and they will get what they want. If that was so, I would have “Abracadabra” your ass away a long time ago.

2. A life of alienation

Outside of the realm of other public defenders, most people don’t get why we defend people charged with crimes, why we do so, even when the pay is bad, why we walk through the wreckage of other people’s lives, or why we do this day after day. In fact, I don’t think that most people get us at all. While this does lead to a little isolation from the rest of the world, I don’t care. I like what I do.

1. You have no identity outside of being a public defender.

Being a public defender is not a typical line of work. It is not a “9 to 5” kind of job. You strive to have an identity outside of your work, but it precedes you no matter where you go or what you do.


Public Defender work is not for everyone. There are days where it wears on me and brings me to my knees. This line of work is depressing, disheartening, and exposes you to the worst that humanity has to offer. And by reading this list, you may believe that I am complaining about my chosen line of work and hate it. Complaining, yes. Hate it, no. As I have explained here, this is where I belong and my chosen line of work. And it is my faith in the man upstairs that gets me through the rough times.

One thought on “10 Reasons It Doesn’t Pay to be a Public Defender

  1. Pingback: Work in Progress . . . . 10 Reasons I love being a Public Defender | Between a Laugh and a Tear

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