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Public Defender vs. Private Lawyer

We’ve all seen the cop shows on TV where they read criminals their rights as they’re being taken away. They have the right to remain silent, the right to a phone call, and – more to the point of this page – the right to have an attorney represent them. Moreover, if they can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to them. What does that mean? That they’ll receive a public defender – someone paid by the government rather than the people they represent, as private lawyers are.

It’s a pretty nice deal, right? Our country says if you don’t have money to defend yourself, we’ll help you out. We’re so concerned about people getting a fair chance and keeping the innocent out of jail that we put our money where our mouth is.

It does bring up an interesting question, though? If you paid for a private attorney rather than accepting an Ohio public defender, would you be getting better service? What, really, is different about public defenders and private lawyers?

Ohio Public Defenders and Private Attorneys: What Are the Differences?

Well, first let’s start out with the ways in which they aren’t different, because for the most part, that’s true. Both kinds of lawyers had to graduate from law school. Both got their J.D. or passed the bar, depending on what their area of law requires. Both may have a lot of experience by the time they show up to represent you in your case… or they may have little to none. Public defender or private attorney doesn’t really matter in this regard. In fact, most public defenders follow a system where the people with the most experience handle the toughest, most serious cases, whereas those who’ve just started working as lawyers are given less serious cases to handle such as misdemeanors.

That’s not to say there aren’t differences, though. Public defenders are often busier than their private counterparts, not only handling more cases, but working on more of them concurrently. In spite of this, private lawyers tend to make more money than public defenders. Clients of public defenders also tend to receive more jail time – three years on average, according to a 2007 report in the New York Times.

Wait — three more years of jail time?What could cause that? I know a number of public defenders, and they’re all smart, skillful, conscientious people who work at least as hard as I do. Why are their clients getting more jail time?

Clients of Public Defenders Average 3 More Years of Jail Time: Why?

Perhaps the answer is in something I already said: the public defenders I’ve worked with are incredibly hard workers, giving up nights and weekends to help their clients. But is this because they’re just that dedicated – or because they’re overburdened by too many cases?

It also has to factor in that public defenders make less money. This doesn’t mean that they’re not trying as hard because they’re getting paid less, but that they struggle more than their peers to make ends meet. This leaves their clients under the care of someone who’s probably both overworked and worried about money, two kinds of distractions that seem like recipes for disaster when your very life could be on the line.

And it’s not that public defenders are handling more “lost causes” than their counterparts either. Someone did a study where they pulled out these “bad” cases from their records and was shocked to discover that it actually made things worse. Instead of their clients getting jailed for three more years on average, that number jumped up to six more years!

It’s Worth the Money to Pay for an Ohio Private Attorney

In contrast, private attorneys actually tend to take on more difficult cases and still have better outcomes than their public defender counterparts. With all of the research and reporting done, that seems to point to the fact that being overburdened by work really does affect your performance.

Unlike Ohio public defenders, private attorneys have more time to spend on each client’s case. Even better, they tend to specialize in specific areas of criminal law that allow them to develop an expertise many public defenders simply can’t match – not because they’re not smart enough or good enough, but because the time it takes to do so simply doesn’t exist for them. If your life and future are at risk, it’s worth it to seek out the best.

By Adam Hunt

Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney Adam Hunt
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