Public Defender vs Private Attorney: Is There A Real Difference?

Public Defender vs Private Attorney: Is There A Real Difference?

by Sep 3, 2020

One of the questions I am asked most frequently by prospective clients is whether or not a defendant should hire a private attorney or go with the public defender. My answer is that if you can afford to hire a private attorney, you should.

As someone who began their career as a public defender and moved into private service, I know just how overworked (and underpaid) attorneys in the public defender’s office are. Ideally, public defenders should only be reserved for defendants who truly cannot afford private counsel.

Are Public Defenders Any Good?

The simple answer here is that a public defender can be as good as any private attorney in the legal community. Sometimes more so, since it takes a huge amount of patience and dedication to be a public defender. With that said, there are some key differences between the two.

In my public defender days, one of the main issues was an overwhelming overload of cases. It is, quite literally, a legal crucible. The benefit to you is that the public defender must learn to act as efficiently as possible on his/her cases.

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Experience vs Workload

Public defenders learn to work their cases quickly or they sink. Moreover, a public defender will try many, many cases in jury trials, thus quickly honing vital skills that are necessary for criminal defense. As a result, they tend to earn a tremendous amount of experience in a short period of time.

Additionally, public defenders have a large network of resources to tap into, such as investigators, research, and the minds of their fellow attorneys.

The downside of working with a public defender, however, is that they only have so much time in a day. Therefore, many clients feel neglected or ill-informed, even though their case is being well taken care of.

Public defenders, unlike private attorneys, have very little time to contact clients. In fact, a client may sometimes only hear from their public defender on their actual court dates, leaving the clients feeling confused, ignored and “rail-roaded”.

The other issue is that, due to juggling all of those cases, sometimes important facts or issues might fall through the cracks, especially if the public defender is relatively new or if the office happens to be short-staffed at the time.

Finally, public defenders sometimes experience burnout. Burnout can affect the public defender’s interaction with the client, the prosecutor, and also the judge and jury.

Getting The Best Of Both

Quinnan Law melds the best of the public defender experience and the private attorney service.

At Quinnan Law, I strive to bring the wealth of knowledge and trial experience obtained from my public defender past while also dedicating the time to adequately review and research your case and make sure you are well-informed when making some of the biggest decisions of your life.

For a free consultation, please contact my office today.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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