Question about being a court appointed attorney

There’s a local murder trial going on in my city, a rather notorious crime, and the alleged killer has a court appointed attorney, who is himself rather notorious. Or it could be said the lawyer comes from a family who is notorious.

Anyway, what level of recompense do such attorneys get? is it really worth their while to defend such cases? Is there a sliding scale for reimbursement from the state, based on the severity of the crime?

Just curious. I imagine pay would vary from place to place as well?

In Canada, there is the special fund for “legal aid” attorneys. The provinces have been trying to “go cheap” on this, and from time to time you hear of lawyers “going on strike” refusing to take cases where the prep time allowed is almost nothing and the rate is well below market norms. IIRC (I’m sure a real lawyer will jump in) you can find any lawyer you want, or they pick one off a list of willing lawyers if you can’t. The provinces have also been reducing the types of cases covered, so that for example fighting for custody or support may become difficult because fewer non-criminal situations are covered.

I’m sure there are 50 or more separate answers for the USA.

In my State (New York) there are two types of Indigent defense.

The first and most common is through a recognized Legal Aid organization, such as Legal Aid of New York or The Bronx Defenders (you can look them up if you’re interested). These are not-for-profit legal service corporations, some extremely large and comprehensive. Attorneys who work for these organizations make ordinary salaries (on the low side) and are not paid per case. Funding comes from a bunch of sources, including portions of every attorney’s every-other-year license registration fee, interest from a special kind of account that holds legal winnings, private donors, and grants.

The second method is referred to as"18B" and it consists of list of private attorneys who have signed up to pick up a defense case in the event that one of the recognized agencies cannot defend the accused (usually this arises when there are more than one defendent on the same crime). They are paid $60/hr for misdeamanors and $74/hr for felonies.

Because the Legal Aid system is much more cost efficient, there’s been a push to decrease the number of cases picked up by 18B attorneys, to the great consternation of the defense bar, because some people do rely on having the assigned cases as backup if walk-in business is slow.

In California, not many attorneys have become rich doing indigent defense because in attorney terms, the reward is minimal.

In most jurisdictions, I get the impression that the pay is so meager and caseloads so heavy that many defendants get pretty short shrift from their appointed attorneys, who are often not the pick of the litter in the local bar association to begin with, being mostly beginners or attorneys too lacking in whatever it takes to be hired by the better local or state firms.

In the case I mentioned there are multiple defendents, and the lawyer is a Phelps.

In the seven courts where I work, the courts contract with several attorneys to provide indigent defense. Last I checked the public defenders were paid $2,000 per month per court, and many of them have contracts with several courts at the same time. For murder or other cases that will take a lot of time they contract separately, at $75 per hour last time I checked.

Since they are paid the same monthly fee no matter how much work they do, there is little incentive other than personal integrity to do a good job. Consequently, the quality of the representation ranges from what I would consider stellar down to what I would consider criminally negligent. One guy sits in court and texts through entire hearings, giving monosyllabic answers to the judge without even looking at him. I can’t believe the judge continues to renew his contract.

Around here, NJ, while many avoid it, if you’re current on the bar you need to take these cases, period, within reason.

But how do you get picked - is there a queue? How do you avoid it, other than not picking up the phone for certain numbers? …and who pays (and is it even close to market rates?)

IAAL who does a lot of Legal Aid work in Canada. It doesn’t pay much–not as much as a regular client would–but I have never heard of lawyers “going on strike” because of the pay. No lawyer is obligated to take on a Legal Aid matter if they do not wish to, and there are plenty who won’t (note that lawyers have to “sign up” to do Legal Aid work). So, typically, Legal Aid calls me, describes a matter, and asks if I will take it. If I will, they make the arrangements; if I won’t, they simply ask another lawyer.

That being said, though, the hours one can spend on a client’s matter are indeed limited, and more than once I have exhausted the available hours and ended up doing some pro bono work. I can request that the available hours be extended if the matter is a particularly tricky or complicated one, or if the matter is headed for trial and will thus require more time than it might otherwise. But I usually cannot get an extension for an hour or two over the limit. That doesn’t bother me, but I can see where it would bother some.

Generally speaking, family matters, such as custody and support, are covered pretty well; as are criminal matters, as you note. But it seems too me that those are the only areas that are. Legal aid tends not to be available for civil suits, for example, or will drafting, or real estate transfers, or similar.

I understand (IANAL) that the bar association keeps track, and every lawyer has an obligation to do a certain amount of ‘community’ work each year. Which includes pro bono (free) work for poor clients, court-appointed work (maybe paid by the state, but at far below normal rates), etc. I don’t know if there ar any sanctions for not doing this, other than the disdain of other bar association members (and judges).

Some of the big name lawyers get out of this obligation, because the bar association will apply this obligation to their whole firm – so a junior lawyer in the firm takes on 2 such cases, and that fills in for the top lawyer, who stays on the $450 per hour corporate case. Though sometimes a top lawyer will take on the defense in a notorious case, to fulfill their obligation, but also getting much publicity from this.

That’s… wrong. State bar association pro bono requirements apply to each individual attorney, not to firms. That said, most (all?) bar associations allow attorneys to discharge their pro bono obligations by paying a fee instead.

And really, when your freedom is on the line, it’s bad enough to have an underpaid lawyer – you certainly don’t want an underpaid lawyer who only looks at criminal law once a year.

There’s publicity too. There’s professional rules that severely limit what kinds of advertising lawyers can really do and so taking a case that’s going to show up on the front page and the 9:00 news every night can be a great boon, especially on the off-chance you actually win the case. If it also counts towards your public service requirement, all the better.

If this lawyer is indeed related to the notorious Phelpses, then he probably knows a thing or two about publicity.

Low income folks have legal needs outside of criminal law. Most lawyers can find pro bono or legal aid clients with needs that are in their general field of expertise.

This, clarifying the previous post, is in general, correct. A really common way at firms is you can give your pro-bono case in it’s entirety to that guy you just hired fresh from law school.

Or you can pay someone else to take it because you’ll make more money per hour not doing the case and still be able to comfortably pay someone else to take it, someone who is just getting started. A corporate lawyer for a hedge fund may take this route.

Your obligation is complete until the next time your name comes up.

Most private attorneys when they start out, besides luck and connections depend on farmed out work (from more established ones getting pro bono, or a lot of times, they have a client they dislike) and gives them experience and helps them develop connections.

It’s not wrong.
That may be what the requirements say, but in practice, it doesn’t happen that way. I You hardly ever see someone like a named partner in a large firm actually personally working a pro bono or court-appointed case. At most, you will see him as the attorney of record, but the actual research work & court appearances are done by a junior lawyer from the firm.

I am lawyer. In Pakistan, you sign up and are added to a panel of defense lawyers. When the court orders that an accused (or in some civil cases the defendant) be granted Counsel “at state expense” they “randomly” assign it to one of the lawyers on the list.When my name comes up I get a call or an email and am sent the documents with a cover letter giving instructions.

Fees are significantly less than what I would get otherwise. I have asked that I get fewer trials and more Appeals and for the most part they have followed that. OTOH it’s an excellent way to get good experience, I have argued murder appeals and am currently preparing a narcotics case.