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I heard public defenders are really underpaid compared to lawyers, is that true?

I want to be a public defender but could reconsider - I heard pay is little and workload is really big #lawyer #attorney #criminal-defense

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Nicole’s Answer

I agree with Jenna, but would add it isn’t always so much the “caseload”
as it is the lack of control you have over your choice of client as a public defender (none), the pace of proceedings (some) and the caseload (meaning the number of clients at any given time). New associates at private firms don’t have much control over those things either but it’s different. Keep researching and asking questions.
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Jennifer’s Answer

Being a public defender will yield less in pay than working at a private law firm. However, not all firms pay the same either and working for a solo practitioner may end up being comparable to working for the Govt. initially. But please keep in mind, that many attorneys may start out as a public defender and then move into private practice after a number of years. If you are drawn to public defender work, ask yourself why? Is it the cause or mission of the work that draws you, or is it the possible salary? It is also critical, however, that you are honest with yourself as to what you financially need to do after law school in order to support yourself. Can you afford to do public interest work if you have law school loans that are coming up in repayment? This will depend on your individual situation and what works for you and possibly any dependents you have or other life obligations (i.e., spouse, kids, elderly parents to care for). If not, you can perhaps still engage in this type of work on a pro bono basis, which can be incredibly rewarding. If you end up at a mid- to larger firm, there will likely be a pro bono program in place and working with clients in need of criminal legal assistance is a possibility. If you end up in a firm that doesn't have a pro bono program, try to search for pro bono opportunities that are in the spirit of what is driving you to be interested in public defender work to begin with. Best of luck as you move forward!!!
Thank you comment icon Jennifer is correct on all counts. Also search online for public defender jobs in your area and see for yourself what they are paying. If it’s enough for you follow your bliss. Nicole Gainey
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Jenna’s Answer

Public defenders are lawyers. If you are only concerned about your salary, then a public defender is probably not a good position for you. Salaries vary with experience and field, but as a rule, a government attorney will make less than one in a private law firm. ALL attorneys have a large work load.
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