Should I hire a lawyer or get a court appointed lawyer?

Hiring a lawyer is a difficult decision. Many people are intimidated or nervous when first talking to a lawyer. If you call us, you will talk to a legal assistant who will answer basic questions and, if you wish, schedule an appointment, or you will talk directly with a Raleigh criminal lawyer. We offer free consultations.

I often am asked, whether someone should hire a lawyer, or should request a court appointed lawyer or public defender.

First, it’s important to note that public defenders – that is the lawyers who are employees of the Wake County Public Defender’s Office – are dedicated professionals who work hard for their clients. Some people are under the misapprehension that they are not lawyers, or not good lawyers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just there are good and bad in any profession, there are excellent lawyers who work for public defender offices, and also lawyers who are not as good. There are also excellent private lawyers, and also private criminal defense lawyers who are not very good.

The issue, generally, with public defenders is not whether or not they are good lawyers, but case loads. Lawyers who work in public defender offices often have very high case loads, which means that they may not have as much time to devote to each individual client.

If you are not appointed a Public Defender, but request a court appointed lawyer, you will be assigned a lawyer from the appointment list. In Wake County, the Indigent Defense Service has established contracts and put them out for bid.

In the case of misdemeanors, a private lawyer who has a contract unit for court appointed cases is likely to receive 100 or more appointments over the course of the year-long contract, during which he is paid $17,000.

While $17,000 seems like a lot of money, it is not when you consider that at 100 cases, the average payment per client is $170 per case. Given that it may take an hour or two to resolve a misdemeanor case – and in many cases, I spend much more time on a misdemeanor than that – an attorney on a misdemeanor case is making approximately $50 to $60 an hour.

Given that the lawyer must pay taxes, staff, travel expenses, the effective payment per hour on a misdemeanor case is likely not much more than $10 or $15. Of course, these figures are guesstimates, and some lawyers may make slightly more than that.

The result is that court appointed lawyers are woefully underpaid. And public defenders are woefully overworked. While there are great lawyers out there who do dedicated work to help their clients, it’s important to consider these issues when you decide whether you want to hire a lawyer or apply for a court appointed lawyer.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.