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How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 12:44 pm
by ctxmike
Hi. Right now I'm a student at Emory college, which from the latest data, seems to accept one-third of the applicants from its undergraduate with a median GPA of 3.5-. I have a 3.73 and am also a Mexican-American URM. Provided I keep my grades up and score well enough on the LSAT, I think I have a good shot at getting in. As someone who's not so interested in money, but helping those underrepresented in the legal system, I was wondering how difficult it would be to secure a job in public defense from Emory?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 12:57 pm
by JamMasterJ
Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:00 pm
by soj
If you get 160+ on the LSAT, you should aim higher than Emory for LS. Not that you need to to become a PD, according to JamMasterJ. (I don't know if he's right or wrong, but he's probably right.)

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:03 pm
by ctxmike
JamMasterJ wrote:Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful


All the more reason to get some decent PDs into the system. However, I recall reading an article that claimed that more and more people were applying to PD positions due to the ailing economy. I know that traditionally anyone who has a JD and is a member of the BAR could get a job as a PD, but it seems that recently those positions have gotten a bit tighter. Does anyone know how true this is?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:14 pm
by tgir
I think it really depends on where the specific PD's office is. I worked in a public defender's office a while back, and like JamMasterJ said, the average PD doesn't have a stellar background. However, some PD's offices are much, much more competitive/prestigious than others (think big, desirable metro areas). Also, keep in mind that (a) many of the less-than-stellar folks who currently work in PD's offices got their jobs back when more "desirable" legal jobs were in great supply, and (b) small PD's offices don't routinely hire large numbers of new lawyers, so there's a certain serendipity factor that can be nearly impossible to overcome, in terms of being in the right place at the right time to fill an opening.

I guess what I'm saying is don't expect to waltz right into a PD's office, BUT it won't be having gone to Emory that makes things difficult.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:22 pm
by bjsesq
JamMasterJ wrote:Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful


Nice to meet you, Mr Completely Wrong. Try getting a PD job in Chicago. Try getting a PD job in DC. Try getting a PD job in a smaller market when you don't have connections to it. To be fair, I thought this when I came to law school too. I was also wrong.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:22 pm
by tgir
Also, since you mentioned your URM status, if you're able to speak Spanish fluently, that seems to be a fairly big plus in many PD's offices.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:29 pm
by JamMasterJ
bjsesq wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful


Nice to meet you, Mr Completely Wrong. Try getting a PD job in Chicago. Try getting a PD job in DC. Try getting a PD job in a smaller market when you don't have connections to it. To be fair, I thought this when I came to law school too. I was also wrong.

I said it would be easy (relative to other law jobs) to get a PD job, not any PD job. I'm sure some are more difficult to obtain, but it's still easier to get than most law jobs

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:31 pm
by JamMasterJ
ctxmike wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful


All the more reason to get some decent PDs into the system. However, I recall reading an article that claimed that more and more people were applying to PD positions due to the ailing economy. I know that traditionally anyone who has a JD and is a member of the BAR could get a job as a PD, but it seems that recently those positions have gotten a bit tighter. Does anyone know how true this is?

Agreed, the PD's and the Prosecutor made cases that were so full of holes that I as a Junior in college could see them. It would be great if more talent went to defending those in need of a strong defense.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:32 pm
by bjsesq
JamMasterJ wrote:
bjsesq wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:Do you have a law degree? Check. Are you a member of a Bar Association? Check. Congratulations, you can get a job as a PD.
I interned for a circuit court judge and most of the PD's that appeared there were pretty aweful


Nice to meet you, Mr Completely Wrong. Try getting a PD job in Chicago. Try getting a PD job in DC. Try getting a PD job in a smaller market when you don't have connections to it. To be fair, I thought this when I came to law school too. I was also wrong.

I said it would be easy (relative to other law jobs) to get a PD job, not any PD job. I'm sure some are more difficult to obtain, but it's still easier to get than most law jobs


Perhaps this was once true, but after the bust, it's really not. If you don't prove an emphasis on criminal defense work, you aren't likely to get the job. Even then, it's about availiability, connectiones, etc. Things are not good for anyone, dude. PD's included.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:37 pm
by crumpetsandtea
bjsesq wrote:Perhaps this was once true, but after the bust, it's really not. If you don't prove an emphasis on criminal defense work, you aren't likely to get the job. Even then, it's about availiability, connectiones, etc. Things are not good for anyone, dude. PD's included.

I'm just an 0L, but this is what I've heard too.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:44 pm
by JamMasterJ
crumpetsandtea wrote:
bjsesq wrote:Perhaps this was once true, but after the bust, it's really not. If you don't prove an emphasis on criminal defense work, you aren't likely to get the job. Even then, it's about availiability, connectiones, etc. Things are not good for anyone, dude. PD's included.

I'm just an 0L, but this is what I've heard too.

That may be true, but I would assume it's still among the easier legal jobs to get. Though I may be wrong?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:57 pm
by scammedhard
Although this article does not directly address the PD employment prospects, it gives an idea of how bad the situation is (or at least was in recent past):

http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/the-job- ... s-thought/

If becoming a PD is so easy, why aren't/weren't these guys PDing?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:01 pm
by crumpetsandtea
JamMasterJ wrote:
crumpetsandtea wrote:
bjsesq wrote:Perhaps this was once true, but after the bust, it's really not. If you don't prove an emphasis on criminal defense work, you aren't likely to get the job. Even then, it's about availiability, connectiones, etc. Things are not good for anyone, dude. PD's included.

I'm just an 0L, but this is what I've heard too.

That may be true, but I would assume it's still among the easier legal jobs to get. Though I may be wrong?

I think it's just a difference in what they look for? Perhaps not as much emphasis on grades/ranking, but more on a demonstrated interest in the field, or prior experience/connections to the office (ie, summer job there)?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:02 pm
by JamMasterJ
Ok, let me clarify my original position. I think that getting a PD job is easier than many/most other legal jobs. I do not mean that it is easy in and of itself. It is an unglamorous field with low pay, so it seems that it would be a little less competitive. Sorry if my glib remark came across as too strong :roll:

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:03 pm
by bjsesq
crumpetsandtea wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:
crumpetsandtea wrote:
bjsesq wrote:Perhaps this was once true, but after the bust, it's really not. If you don't prove an emphasis on criminal defense work, you aren't likely to get the job. Even then, it's about availiability, connectiones, etc. Things are not good for anyone, dude. PD's included.

I'm just an 0L, but this is what I've heard too.

That may be true, but I would assume it's still among the easier legal jobs to get. Though I may be wrong?

I think it's just a difference in what they look for? Perhaps not as much emphasis on grades/ranking, but more on a demonstrated interest in the field, or prior experience/connections to the office (ie, summer job there)?


This is true. Grades aren't as heavily emphasized (but they still matter) and demonstrated commitment count. Crimnal courses, lit courses, clinics and practicums are god here. Even then, these are not guarantees.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:04 pm
by bjsesq
JamMasterJ wrote:Ok, let me clarify my original position. I think that getting a PD job is easier than many/most other legal jobs. I do not mean that it is easy in and of itself. It is an unglamorous field with low pay, so it seems that it would be a little less competitive. Sorry if my glib remark came across as too strong :roll:


I appreciate the humor, actually. I just aim to prevent misinformation about the job prospects.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:19 pm
by txadv11
FWIW look into the federal PD jobs. I am sure they are much more difficult to get, but I hear those can bring very interesting work.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:39 pm
by ctxmike
txadv11 wrote:FWIW look into the federal PD jobs. I am sure they are much more difficult to get, but I hear those can bring very interesting work.


I know a federal judge and two public defenders who work at the federal level. Would it be possible to network into these positions?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:40 pm
by bjsesq
ctxmike wrote:
txadv11 wrote:FWIW look into the federal PD jobs. I am sure they are much more difficult to get, but I hear those can bring very interesting work.


I know a federal judge and two public defenders who work at the federal level. Would it be possible to network into these positions?


Straight out of law school? It's going to be pretty tough. Fed jobs are very difficult to get because of the nature of the work and the substantially better pay and benefits than their state counterparts.

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:43 pm
by ctxmike
bjsesq wrote:
ctxmike wrote:
txadv11 wrote:FWIW look into the federal PD jobs. I am sure they are much more difficult to get, but I hear those can bring very interesting work.


I know a federal judge and two public defenders who work at the federal level. Would it be possible to network into these positions?


Straight out of law school? It's going to be pretty tough. Fed jobs are very difficult to get because of the nature of the work and the substantially better pay and benefits than their state counterparts.


Would it be possible to work my way up or does this work much the same as Big Law where if you strike out it's extremely difficult to still make it?

Re: How hard is it to become a public defender?

Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:45 pm
by bjsesq
ctxmike wrote:
bjsesq wrote:
ctxmike wrote:
txadv11 wrote:FWIW look into the federal PD jobs. I am sure they are much more difficult to get, but I hear those can bring very interesting work.


I know a federal judge and two public defenders who work at the federal level. Would it be possible to network into these positions?


Straight out of law school? It's going to be pretty tough. Fed jobs are very difficult to get because of the nature of the work and the substantially better pay and benefits than their state counterparts.


Would it be possible to work my way up or does this work much the same as Big Law where if you strike out it's extremely difficult to still make it?


It's not similar. Generally, the Feds seem to prefer taking those who have worked as ltigators already, with those doing criminal defense work obviously getting preference. Experience is a big deal to them.