Author Topic: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.  (Read 2160 times)

Slow2FIRE

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Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« on: August 28, 2016, 10:10:05 AM »
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edited for privacy
« Last Edit: December 09, 2016, 06:37:11 PM by Slow2FIRE »

FIREby35

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2016, 12:00:50 PM »
I am not a PD but I do private criminal defense. The answers to your questions depend a lot on where you would be a PD. in a big city or busy court, the issue may be volume. Are you doing misdemeanors or felonies. In federal arenas the issues are totally different than state. I know you can be a part time PD in rural areas but most of the big cities would probably be less likely to take a part timer.

Criminal Defendants are not all bad people. Sometimes they are just being judged for the worst thing they ever did. But any public defender knows that you will represent some really difficult people. You can not refuse their case. You will have difficult moments where people dump all over your best intentions.

Anyway, go ask some real life public defenders. Compared to being a patent lawyer, I imagine you might have to see it/hear it to believe it ;)

StacheyStache

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2016, 04:32:50 PM »
Also can't comment on PD experience but I can comment on taking a state bar.  Is the patent bar really only half a day or am I reading your OP wrong?  My state bar exam was 3 full days back to back to back and covered about 15 different subjects.  I studied for three months and then spent three more months waiting for my results absolutely sure I failed(I did pass somehow but I still have the occasional nightmare.  The waiting was much worse than the studying).  Had I failed I would have lost my job offer and had to wait 6 more months to retake the test plus an additional 3 months of waiting for results before I could practice.  A good chunk of my class failed the first time.

It would take a sack of gold or some reeeeeeally strong personal pull to get me to move out of state and take another bar exam willingly.  If being a PD is a really strong pull for you then you'll make it work no matter what but the bar exam is no picnic.  Don't take it lightly.  I know a lot of really smart individuals who are great lawyers now and studied hard but still had to retake it multiple times.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2016, 04:38:58 PM by StacheyStache »

Happy in CA

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2016, 02:58:47 PM »
I can comment as I was a public defender for over 20 years. 

Answering your questions, in order:  Would you get time to thoroughly analyze and prepare your cases?  It depends on the office you work for and the size of the assigned caseloads.  In most offices, the answer is NO.  In good offices the serious cases are assigned to teams with much lower caseloads, and newer attorneys get excellent training in analyzing cases.  Still there is normally high volume so the mantra becomes "choose your battles."  Not every case needs a huge workup, and sometimes you want to work the case up and the client says no.  Sometimes you sit in a jury box full of in-custody men and women and advise people whether to plead guilty or fight the case based only on having read a police report.  And sometimes the judge and DA get very testy if you take too long.  The process only works well if you are prepared going into the courtroom, and that usually means working late or working at home or both.

Do you often get to help "good" people who have nevertheless either committed or been accused of committing a crime?  Absolutely, all the time, far more often than you run into the "bad" clients.  Most of your clients will have substance abuse or mental health issues, often both.  Actually, almost all of them.  You begin to see that most of your clients are sick rather than bad, but some of the things they do are undeniably bad.  Helping people is the best part of the job.

Do you get to pick and choose cases?  Not usually.  Being a PD is not for he faint of heart.

Can you set your own schedule?  Not in any office I have seen.

Are more public defenders needed?  Good ones are always needed.  There is a fairly high turnover in the first few years as people who like the idea of being a public defender find the actual practice less than satisfying.  For the people who find out they do like it, it can be an extremely rewarding job, but the stress is always there.  Trials are particularly challenging.

PD's tend to hang together.  You get sort of an "us vs. them" mentality at times - the deck is stacked against you, not in your favor, and there are times when you please no one, not your client, not the judge, not the DA.  But you soldier on, doing the best you can do for the client even if they don't appreciate it.  You will be called a public pretender and asked if you have to win a certain number of cases before you can apply to be a DA.  If it bothers you its probably not the job for you.  At the same time some of the letters of thanks you will get become treasures, and you will know that within our legal system, your work is absolutely necessary to justice being done.

There is always the possibility of court-appointed or "conflicts" appointments in most jurisdictions.  The advantage is that you can probably work part time and refuse a case or class of cases here and there (refuse too many and they will stop calling you).  But it is not the same as being a public defender, because it lacks the camaraderie and isn't nearly as intense.

I've been retired for a few years already.  Probably more than anything I have ever done, being a PD has shaped who I am, although I do have other interests and I FIRE'd because it was hard to pursue them with such an all-encompassing job.

I'd love to hear another public defender's take on your questions.

Bonus question:  Patent bar?  What the hell would a public defender know about the patent bar?  Unless it was an actual bar of course.

 


LeRainDrop

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2016, 04:34:36 PM »
Do you often get to help "good" people who have nevertheless either committed or been accused of committing a crime?  Absolutely, all the time, far more often than you run into the "bad" clients.  Most of your clients will have substance abuse or mental health issues, often both.  Actually, almost all of them.  You begin to see that most of your clients are sick rather than bad, but some of the things they do are undeniably bad.  Helping people is the best part of the job.

Wow, I loved your whole summary, Happy in CA, but the above was really my favorite part.  I worked as a state-level prosecutor during my third year of law school, and my mentor was really good about teaching that our job was not to throw the book at the defendants, get convictions, and seek the highest sentencing allowed by law, but rather it was to do justice, deal equitably with the defense, take into account mitigating factors, etc.  While I was naturally more aligned towards a prosecution side, I have grown much more to appreciate the defense side, as well.  I've also learned a lot more about mental illness and how deinstitutionalization has led to big increases in leaving the mentally ill on the streets and/or without treatment.  One consequence of this has been that many lack the safeguards that would otherwise discourage them from committing crimes (mostly minor, but sometimes devastating) and they land in jail/prison rather than receiving the treatment they need.  It's kind of astonishing, in a bad way, how high is the percentage of incarcerated people who have a serious mental illness.

Happy in CA

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2016, 06:54:10 PM »
When I was working it was often said that the largest population of seriously mentally ill people in this country was in the Los Angeles County jail.  I worked in mental health courts, and the biggest impediment to keeping a mentally ill person out of prison was the lack of appropriate community based treatment.  Things are getting better but there is still a long way to go.  Non-adversarial mental health treatment courts are a start, but are not good at determining whether a person is guilty or not guilty (so that kind of limits who goes there).

Dee18

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Re: Tell me about your experiences as a public defender.
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2016, 07:48:09 PM »
Some places still do not have public defenders and  rely on court appointed attorneys who are paid (one way or another) by the government.  With these positions you can work half time.