I'm As Real As They Get

On the subject of appointed versus retained counsel (in this line of comments), Mister DA writes:

What's even more fun is when a qualified indigent gets one of the top criminal defense attorenys in the area as appointed counsel and then gets the family to pool their resources to hire some out of town hack with a big ad in the yellow pages.

I've had a fair share of experience with this, and I'm always left a little torn. I've had cases where I've already talked the D.A. into giving my client a conditional dismissal or where I know the case will be dismissed on speedy trial grounds on the next date, when my client calls me and tells me "I've hired a lawyer," or, worse, "I've hired a 'real' lawyer."

On one hand, I want to say, "Wait! I'm a real lawyer! I was going to beat your case for you!" On the other hand, my caseload is high enough as it is, and private attorneys need work too. So, it's better not to say anything.

But that doesn't mean I can't sit back and laugh though when the hack (oh, I mean "real lawyer") messes up their case.


  1. But your not a "paid lawyer!" How could you possibly be better than the lawyer from two counties away who was paid $5,000 to come to a court he's never been in before?

    My court appointed cases apparently think that I am independently wealthy and don't get any pay for representing them.

  2. If I had a dollar for every time I've uttered the words "I do get paid. Just not by you."

    My other favorite thing is when their "paid" or "real" lawyer doesn't show up in court until very late. Then my client sees me in the courtroom and says "Can you just do my case? I don't want to sit here all day." Too bad. Or, when their lawyer does show up, and he comes to me to ask me things like "What's this judge's name? How do I get my case called? Can you send me a copy of your file on this case."

  3. I thought you were a private defense attorney. Are you a PD or is the bulk of your work court-appointed?

  4. Sorry, it is way more complicated than either of those 2 choices. Suffice it to say that a majority of my clients are indigent. And that I'm overworked and underpaid. Sounds like a PD? Yeah, kinda, close enough, but not quite.

  5. Just in case I get booked, how would someone know if their free lawyer was any good. Don't you have to qualify to have a free lawyer or something?

  6. First, as to how do you know your appointed lawyer is any good - you really don't, any more than you will know if the guy who took $5,000 for a retainer is any good. How do you find out? Word of mouth, mostly. If you've had dealings with a lawyer in some other field of practice, probated an estate or did a divorce, and you were happy (or at least satisfied) with the results, call him/her and ask for their advice. If you know any cops, they asking them. They generally have a pretty good idea of who they hate to see on the other side. If anyone will tell you, ask how appointed counsel is paid - are they public defenders, on salary like the state's attorneys? Are they contract attorneys, working on an annual budget from the court? If they are appointed from an approved list, are they paid an hourly rate, or a flat rate? If I were in a strange jurisdiction and needed court appointed counsel, I hope to find either a PD or an hourly rate court appointed attorney.

    As to how you qualify for appointed counsel - every court across the US is different. Generally, the systems I'm acquainted with use a sort of grid where they compare disposable income against the seriousness of the charge.

  7. I tell prospective clients that if they don't want to pay my fee, they'll be much better off with the PD's office where the attorneys know what they're doing than with the handful of private counsel who charge a third of what I do to enter a guilty plea at the arraignment.