Private Attorney or Public Defender?

The Two Options: Public Defender or Private Attorney?

Being arrested for a crime compels you to face the situation head-on, initiating with securing legal representation, irrespective of your guilt or innocence. The Sixth Amendment fortifies your right to legal counsel when accused of a crime, a privilege extended even to those unable to afford an attorney.

Your choice of representation – a public defender or a private attorney – generally hinges on your financial capacity to engage private counsel. However, exceptions occur, for instance, when a conflict of interest emerges, potentially enabling you to obtain private representation without bearing the financial burden.

A discernible distinction between a public defender and a private attorney rests on their respective caseloads. Public defenders, albeit knowledgeable and committed, often grapple with an extensive workload that constrains them from allotting substantial time to each case, unlike their private counterparts. Consequently, opting for a private attorney could theoretically enhance your chances of a favorable outcome owing to the considerable time and resources they can invest in your defense.

It’s essential to underscore that this distinction isn’t essentially rooted in competency; public defenders are well-versed in legal intricacies and generally uphold a commendable standard of representation. The pivotal consideration here revolves around the time allocation, which can potentially influence the trajectory of your case.

As you navigate this crucial decision, understanding the respective advantages and disadvantages of each option, detailed below, will guide you to an informed choice.

Public Defender Representation:


As underscored previously, your right to legal representation is safeguarded by the Sixth Amendment, and this is where public defenders come into play. Should you find yourself unable to afford a lawyer, you can request a public defender to represent you, granted that your financial circumstances meet the requisite criteria.

Opting for a public defender brings the unbeatable advantage of cost-effectiveness — their services are rendered free of charge, a stark contrast to the hefty fees usually associated with private attorneys. This financial relief can indeed be seen as a substantial benefit, particularly when you consider the high costs often attached to private legal representation.

Moreover, public defenders often have a well-versed understanding of the local court dynamics owing to their extensive experience in handling a variety of cases. Their established relationships and familiarity with judges and prosecutors can potentially work in favor of your case, leveraging a nuanced understanding of the local legal landscape to your advantage.


Despite the potential talent, professionalism, and dedication of a public defender, it cannot be ignored that they often shoulder an extremely heavy workload, a situation that has fueled nationwide discussions and legislative debates. This overburdened state frequently steers them to suggest plea bargains to their clients, a route seen as a means to bypass the potentially long and arduous trial process.

The overwhelming caseloads also mean that they might not be able to dedicate adequate time to delve into the finer details of your situation, possibly missing out on elements that could favor your case in court. Moreover, they often operate with limited resources owing to insufficient funding, which restricts them from engaging in extensive discovery research and from hiring private investigators to strengthen your defense during trial preparations. It is important to be aware of these constraints as they can significantly influence the direction and outcome of your legal journey.

Private Attorney Representation:


Private attorneys offer a range of advantages compared to public defenders, primarily stemming from greater resources and lighter caseloads. This enables them to allocate a substantial amount of time and personalized attention to your case, which often results in a more meticulously crafted defense strategy.

One significant perk is their access to a network of resources including private consultants and investigators, and sometimes, collaboration with other attorneys in their firm to fortify your defense. This collective expertise not only aids in thoroughly scrutinizing the prosecution’s stance but also ensures a robust preparation for the trial, encompassing detailed witness interviews and diligent exploration of all potential defensive angles.

Moreover, private attorneys have the means to hire trial and jury consultants, enhancing your odds of a favorable outcome by meticulously crafting a strategy tailored to your case.

However, while the benefits are considerable, it is crucial to ensure that the law firm or private attorney you choose holds a remarkable reputation in the industry for utmost efficacy in representation.


While there aren’t many downsides to hiring a private attorney, the substantial cost is a notable one. Engaging a private attorney invariably comes with significant expenses, forming perhaps the singular substantial drawback to this option.

Payment structures for private attorneys can vary widely; you might be charged a flat fee, asked for a retainer, or billed based on an hourly rate. Furthermore, some attorneys offer payment plans, providing a bit of financial flexibility. Current data from Threvo indicates that hourly rates can range from $100 to $400, greatly influenced by the specifics and complexities of your case.

When it comes to flat fees and retainers, there is a considerable variation, making it challenging to pinpoint a standard amount. However, it is generally observed that for felony cases, a criminal attorney might charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. It’s imperative to consider this substantial financial aspect while opting for private representation.

Making Your Choice

The decision between opting for a public defender or a private attorney is pivotal and could significantly influence the outcome of your case. While financial constraints are a considerable factor, it is also vital to consider the potential benefits of a private attorney’s dedicated service.

If your budget allows, hiring a private attorney is often recommended. However, diligent research and vetting are essential to ensure you select an attorney with a stellar reputation. The first step towards a strong defense is securing bail; contact us if you require assistance with this crucial process.