Private Attorney or Public Defender: Who do you choose?

No one sweats more than the people defending themselves against charges in the world of criminal justice. If you find yourself adrift navigating the gridwork of the United States court system, one thing is certain: you need a representative to help you find your way. Public defenders and private attorneys both offer this service. But who do you choose?


Public defenders are a vital part of the justice system. Their purpose is to provide legal representation for those who cannot afford their own attorney. As a result, they’re usually overworked with heavy caseloads. The more clients they represent, the less time they can afford to spend on individual cases.

Private attorneys, on the other hand, are personally selected and paid for by the defendant. They typically have lower caseloads than public defenders, which means more time spent on each case. However, cost is a factor.

From what I’ve seen in my own experience, with Judge Burke’s Hamilton County Drug Court, the public defenders who represented us were usually loaded with stacks of case files, calling client after client. In my particular case, after I resolved my DUI charge, my paid attorney handed me off. From there, my public defender changed twice through the process; The only time I talked to either of them was inside the courtroom.

My experience with a private attorney was much different. We had meetings, exchanged texts and phone calls, and he seemed to have a different level of liberty with which he could operate in any given courtroom.

If he had somewhere else he needed to be or another client he had to attend to, my case could be called (rescheduled) more conveniently. Because he chose his own clients, rather than having them assigned to him, he was able to dedicate as much time to my case as necessary. I felt more in control with him representing me too.

I spoke with an old friend of mine who is a practicing attorney in Ohio. He asked to remain anonymous due to his employment. When I asked him about the virtues of public defenders vs. private attorneys, many of his thoughts echoed my own.

He also shed light on some key differences from a professional standpoint: public defenders typically aren’t paid very well, but they also don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time hunting down clients.Additionally, both private and public attorneys can stretch themselves too thin, but for private attorneys, it’s a matter much more within their control.

Whatever a individual’s circumstance, having a professional representative, whether it is a private attorney or public defender, offers the defendant a significant advantage over going it alone.