Exit Options for Public Defenders

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abogadesq

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Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Sat Jun 11, 2016 11:55 am

I've been a PD for a year, and I'm looking to leave in one or two years from now. This first year has been intense: hundreds of cases, unruly clients, low pay, and sometimes hostile counterparts in the system. However, I find the experience rewarding and my co-workers are great. I've since been given a much lower caseload that only requires about 40 hrs/week, which is great in the legal world. I'm still looking to get more trial experience in the next few years. Nonetheless, the pay is just awful considering the money and time I've put in my education and my goals (moving to a high cost area and start a family). I also don't want to do private criminal work. What realistic options do I have in the non-criminal private legal market with 2-3 years of experience?

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby zot1 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:36 pm

Private criminal defense? I knew this partner who really wanted me to go the PD --> private route and he wanted me to meet with four of his prodigies who had gone that route and were now making tons of money.

Just wasn't for me. Who wants to make money anyway... :lol:

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abogadesq

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Sat Jun 11, 2016 9:50 pm

I mean besides criminal law. Litigation skills should transfer over to other areas of law...right?

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby zot1 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 10:32 pm

I'm sorry, I didn't finish reading your post before :oops:

It does translate but you will have a harder time explaining away why you did it for a while. Best option would be to explain you wanted the trial experience and to bring that into X area of law.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:15 pm

Do you know if commercial litigation firms have former PD's or prosecutors, or is that uncommon?

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Lacepiece23 » Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:36 pm

abogadesq wrote:Do you know if commercial litigation firms have former PD's or prosecutors, or is that uncommon?


I know someone in my market who went DA to labor and employment firm. Don't think this is very common. I think you could do it if you had the credentials for a big firm and you chose to go DA first. I think a big firm would be happy to have a lawyer with trial experience, but still get to start you as a first year.

I'd probably go Solo if I were you. Maybe look into Med Mal firms. I think they try a decent amount of cases from what I hear. I think some higher end insurance defense shops may be in court a bit more as well.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Bluem_11 » Sun Jun 12, 2016 2:10 pm

I don't know about PD's, but I know a few friends who were Assistant DA's that said they were able to leverage their trial experience to firms to do trial attorney work even in civil matters. I imagine it's the same thing.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby BarbellDreams » Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:44 pm

Workers Comp and Insurance Defense are your best bets in the private sector. If you stay too long, you will pigeon hole yourself. Anything more than 3 years is starting to go down that path and once you're at 5, its going to be very tough to move.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby JusticeJackson » Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:50 pm

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Last edited by JusticeJackson on Tue Sep 13, 2016 12:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Torts Illustrated » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:28 pm

I haven't made this transition, but I know people who have. I've seen two things work. First, you can sell your left-wing public-interest bona fides to other left-wing public interest employers (like your local ACLU affiliate). Second, you can sell your rough-and-tumble litigation skills to local plaintiffs' firms. I know more people who've done the first thing successfully, but the second thing can also work, especially if you appeal to certain plaintiffs' lawyers' self-image that they're fighting in the trenches for the little guy.

If you're at a particularly good PD office, you could also look into clinical teaching opportunities at a local law school.

And if you're not at a particularly good PD office, consider trying to move up towards one before leaving PD work completely. (Easier said than done, I know.) I'm pretty sure exit options from nationally known offices (PDS, the Bronx Defenders, the Orleans Public Defenders, etc.) are significantly better than the norm for the rest of the field.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 14, 2016 8:50 pm

Torts Illustrated wrote:I haven't made this transition, but I know people who have. I've seen two things work. First, you can sell your left-wing public-interest bona fides to other left-wing public interest employers (like your local ACLU affiliate). Second, you can sell your rough-and-tumble litigation skills to local plaintiffs' firms. I know more people who've done the first thing successfully, but the second thing can also work, especially if you appeal to certain plaintiffs' lawyers' self-image that they're fighting in the trenches for the little guy.

If you're at a particularly good PD office, you could also look into clinical teaching opportunities at a local law school.

And if you're not at a particularly good PD office, consider trying to move up towards one before leaving PD work completely. (Easier said than done, I know.) I'm pretty sure exit options from nationally known offices (PDS, the Bronx Defenders, the Orleans Public Defenders, etc.) are significantly better than the norm for the rest of the field.


Is Miami a "nationally known office"?
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Jun 14, 2016 8:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Tue Jun 14, 2016 8:52 pm

Above anon is me, sorry. By mistake clicked on anon feature. I appreciate all your responses.

BarbellDreams wrote:Workers Comp and Insurance Defense are your best bets in the private sector. If you stay too long, you will pigeon hole yourself. Anything more than 3 years is starting to go down that path and once you're at 5, its going to be very tough to move.


I'm not very familiar with either of those two fields. How lucrative can they be? Say, a locally known boutique firm in a major metropolitan area.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 15, 2016 12:39 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Torts Illustrated wrote:I haven't made this transition, but I know people who have. I've seen two things work. First, you can sell your left-wing public-interest bona fides to other left-wing public interest employers (like your local ACLU affiliate). Second, you can sell your rough-and-tumble litigation skills to local plaintiffs' firms. I know more people who've done the first thing successfully, but the second thing can also work, especially if you appeal to certain plaintiffs' lawyers' self-image that they're fighting in the trenches for the little guy.

If you're at a particularly good PD office, you could also look into clinical teaching opportunities at a local law school.

And if you're not at a particularly good PD office, consider trying to move up towards one before leaving PD work completely. (Easier said than done, I know.) I'm pretty sure exit options from nationally known offices (PDS, the Bronx Defenders, the Orleans Public Defenders, etc.) are significantly better than the norm for the rest of the field.


Is Miami a "nationally known office"?


Yes. Competitive to get into, nationwide applicants, lots of trials.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Catsinthebag » Wed Jun 15, 2016 3:11 am

abogadesq wrote:I've been a PD for a year, and I'm looking to leave in one or two years from now. This first year has been intense: hundreds of cases, unruly clients, low pay, and sometimes hostile counterparts in the system. However, I find the experience rewarding and my co-workers are great. I've since been given a much lower caseload that only requires about 40 hrs/week, which is great in the legal world. I'm still looking to get more trial experience in the next few years. Nonetheless, the pay is just awful considering the money and time I've put in my education and my goals (moving to a high cost area and start a family). I also don't want to do private criminal work. What realistic options do I have in the non-criminal private legal market with 2-3 years of experience?


I know you said non-criminal, but have you considered white collar defense? You wouldn't have to worry about explaining anything about why you were doing what you're doing and yet the nature of the work is much different.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby BarbellDreams » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:11 pm

abogadesq wrote:Above anon is me, sorry. By mistake clicked on anon feature. I appreciate all your responses.

BarbellDreams wrote:Workers Comp and Insurance Defense are your best bets in the private sector. If you stay too long, you will pigeon hole yourself. Anything more than 3 years is starting to go down that path and once you're at 5, its going to be very tough to move.


I'm not very familiar with either of those two fields. How lucrative can they be? Say, a locally known boutique firm in a major metropolitan area.


What do you mean by "lucrative"? The salaries are solid, but the ceiling is low. Associates at large ID firms make 100k by year 3-4, but its hard to get above 125k without making partner which typically takes forever. Comp is more tops out around 100-110k in my experience prior to making partner. Obviously smaller firms reduce salary accordingly. Either way, you will get a huge raise coming from the PDs office.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:42 pm

Catsinthebag wrote:
abogadesq wrote:I've been a PD for a year, and I'm looking to leave in one or two years from now. This first year has been intense: hundreds of cases, unruly clients, low pay, and sometimes hostile counterparts in the system. However, I find the experience rewarding and my co-workers are great. I've since been given a much lower caseload that only requires about 40 hrs/week, which is great in the legal world. I'm still looking to get more trial experience in the next few years. Nonetheless, the pay is just awful considering the money and time I've put in my education and my goals (moving to a high cost area and start a family). I also don't want to do private criminal work. What realistic options do I have in the non-criminal private legal market with 2-3 years of experience?


I know you said non-criminal, but have you considered white collar defense? You wouldn't have to worry about explaining anything about why you were doing what you're doing and yet the nature of the work is much different.


Hmm, I've not considered that. I'll check it out, thanks!

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby lolwat » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:52 pm

This is generally consistent with most of the above advice: You definitely can leverage your trial experience, but you need to find firms which actually take cases intending to go to trial rather than simply bill the hell out of them for years, delay trial forever, and then settle. That will be the difficulty. I think if you applied to such firms you won't need to explain much--you wanted to go to a DA's office or PD's office because you wanted trial experience. Period.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 15, 2016 10:39 pm

I'm in a very similar position and want to thank you for starting this thread! I'll give you my thoughts and hopefully others can chime in.

My plan is to try and score a job with a civil non-profit and just see where that takes me. I feel like working at a PD gives you the liberal cred to get like a housing assistance etc. job. Working in a civil field should translate better into private practice in the future. Unfortunately PD work comes with a kind of stigma outside the legal world and within it to a certain extent. I think if you switch to civil non-profit it will be way easier to go private in whatever civil field than from criminal defense. I would be really grateful if someone from a civil non-profit could chime in about how PD's would be perceived at their organization.

Another option would be to go prosecution for a year or two. It's unfortunate for us, but it seems like a DA job is a good jumping off point for pretty much anything other than biglaw. Depending on where you are getting a prosecutor job after a few years in a PD should be fairly straight forward.

A few people in my office left for private practice and came back. They basically got something like 100 trials under their belts and then were just the trial guys for the midsize firms that picked them up. One of them didn't even do any criminal stuff. Makes sense, I mean I don't think that too many senior associates have voir dired a hundred juries, always good to have those specialized skills.

I'd say that Miami is definitely a nationally recognized office within PD circles but I'm not sure about outside of that. The reason it's well known is because the LARGE amount of trials everyone does there. So even if it doesn't carry the weight of Bronx you will be able to say that you've done A LOT of trials.

If you are open geographically and would prefer to stay in public defense it's worth looking into California. A lot of the counties out there pay pretty well, low 6 figures once you're at 5 years or so of experience.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby deadpanic » Wed Jun 15, 2016 10:53 pm

BarbellDreams wrote:Workers Comp and Insurance Defense are your best bets in the private sector. If you stay too long, you will pigeon hole yourself. Anything more than 3 years is starting to go down that path and once you're at 5, its going to be very tough to move.


I agree insurance defense is possible, but they generally are more concerned about someone being able to draft a motion or response to a motion, and issue and respond to discovery, rather than try a case. They are trying to limit the liability for a long time, bill the insurance company for awhile, then get it settled. Another thing though, is that insurance defense is not quite as lucrative as it once was. The insurance companies audits the hell out of your bills and so your hours get slashed a lot. They have a lot of power and have lowered the rates as well. All that being said, your skills would still transfer fairly well.

You probably have a good shot at a plaintiffs' personal injury firm, as someone mentioned. The only thing is that most of the time they start you on a really low base salary (probably about what you make now) with the promise of eventually getting a cut of the contingency from the case.

I know a few folks who have opened their own shops and actually do pretty well. The problem is you likely do not have much capital right now with your salary and family, respectfully. It also requires a lot of marketing and hustle, something you do not get in law school or gov't practice, and you just kind of have to have.

White collar criminal defense is kind of tough to get into. The kind of clients that can pay for that defense usually go for big name lawyers at large firms that were usually former US Attorneys. There is not a large volume of this work, and the scarce clients that seek lawyers for it have the money to go to someone with a lot more experience.

How is your relationship with the ADAs? Maybe you could make the switch there? Not that it would be a big pay raise, but I imagine the pay is slightly better, and they generally have lockstep raises by statute, at least in my state.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 16, 2016 1:26 am

abogadesq wrote:I mean besides criminal law. Litigation skills should transfer over to other areas of law...right?


Not really. Civil lit practice is quite different than criminal defense, especially the higher-end (i.e. more "lucrative") practice areas like commercial lit at a large firm. I've certainly seen DAs transition into smaller civil litigation firms, become local judges, etc. You never really see the same with former PDs. I think there's a certain level of stigma attached to being a PD even within the legal realm, and it seems like that's hard to overcome. There's the possibility of becoming a private criminal defense attorney, but it's not a particularly lucrative practice area for most when you factor out the overhead expenses. It's certainly not the type of work where you're going to be able to reliably support a family a four in a really high COL area like NYC. I mean there's always a few attorneys in these practice areas who are the top DUI attorney, etc. in the city, and they make decent money, but the vast majority of private criminal defense attorneys don't.

abogadesq wrote:Do you know if commercial litigation firms have former PD's or prosecutors, or is that uncommon?


No, that's really uncommon.

JusticeJackson wrote:It probably happens, but it's super rare. Prosecutors get hired way more than PDs. And it's even hard to get a job at a biglaw firm coming from a prosecutor's office. At least at my biglaw firm, the partners would rather hire someone that can draft motions and discovery responses than a PD/prosecutor that is good in court.


Yup.

Catsinthebag wrote:
abogadesq wrote:I've been a PD for a year, and I'm looking to leave in one or two years from now. This first year has been intense: hundreds of cases, unruly clients, low pay, and sometimes hostile counterparts in the system. However, I find the experience rewarding and my co-workers are great. I've since been given a much lower caseload that only requires about 40 hrs/week, which is great in the legal world. I'm still looking to get more trial experience in the next few years. Nonetheless, the pay is just awful considering the money and time I've put in my education and my goals (moving to a high cost area and start a family). I also don't want to do private criminal work. What realistic options do I have in the non-criminal private legal market with 2-3 years of experience?


I know you said non-criminal, but have you considered white collar defense? You wouldn't have to worry about explaining anything about why you were doing what you're doing and yet the nature of the work is much different.


White collar is a extremely difficult, if not impossible, practice area to break into coming out of a local PDs office. Local PDs offices don't really handle white collar criminal cases. I mean you might get a small number of lower end fraud cases, but you won't be handling the types of cases that white collar firms handle. Most white collar practices hire former AUSAs that were prosecuting white collar crimes for the USAO, which is what their clients want.

BarbellDreams wrote:
abogadesq wrote:Above anon is me, sorry. By mistake clicked on anon feature. I appreciate all your responses.

BarbellDreams wrote:Workers Comp and Insurance Defense are your best bets in the private sector. If you stay too long, you will pigeon hole yourself. Anything more than 3 years is starting to go down that path and once you're at 5, its going to be very tough to move.


I'm not very familiar with either of those two fields. How lucrative can they be? Say, a locally known boutique firm in a major metropolitan area.


What do you mean by "lucrative"? The salaries are solid, but the ceiling is low. Associates at large ID firms make 100k by year 3-4, but its hard to get above 125k without making partner which typically takes forever. Comp is more tops out around 100-110k in my experience prior to making partner. Obviously smaller firms reduce salary accordingly. Either way, you will get a huge raise coming from the PDs office.


I just want to add to this that $100k /year might effectively be a lower salary if OP has a significant amount of law school debt and is currently on PAYE/IBR and can utilize PSLF. With PSLF, your loans are gone in 10 years and you just pay 10% of your salary factoring out 150% of the poverty line from your salary. If OP went to a t14, his law school might be making his PAYE payments. With the standard 10-year repayment plan, he might be looking at paying $25k+ /year towards his loans for 10 years. So the amount of money OP has left over after his loan repayments could effectively be lower with a $100k /year salary in private practice than what he has with his public interest salary and PAYE. (For example, a $100k /year salary will be roughly $65k /year after taxes, SS, health insurance, and other deductions. Knock off another $25k from that for student loan payments, and OP has $40k /year left. On the other hand, a $60k /year PD salary would be around $40k /year after after taxes, SS, health insurance, and other deductions (actually probably closer to $45k, but for the sake of argument let's say it's $40k). But then OP does PAYE and his law school makes his payments. So OP actually breaks even in that situation, despite making $40k /year less at the PD's office.) I realize that there's the 20-year plan with PAYE, but then there's the mega-tax bomb at the end and in the long-run OP could actually come out keeping less money than what he's making now.

OP-- what's are you looking for? Is it the salary that's the biggest issue, or is it that you also don't like the work as a PD? If you actually like the work, you could always consider applying for both offices in CA (as someone else mentioned) and with around 3 years experience and Spanish you could consider trying to move to federal PD offices. Both of those pay a lot better than most local PD offices. If it's that you don't like the work as a PD, my recommendation would be to get out as quickly as you can. You're still only in your first year as a PD, so I don't think you've pigeon-holed yourself into this type of work yet. I'd say hustle your ass off and try to find anything you can in a civil practice area that's relatively lucrative (like commercial lit). If I were in that position, I'd even be willing to take a pay-cut just for the experience and opportunity to build my resume towards something better paying in the future. Definitely don't stay at the PD's office for 2-3 years if you don't like the work because it's going to get harder and harder to get out of it with the more time you get into a PD's office. I don't think the vast majority of civil litigation firms are going to value your PD experience nearly as much as they'll value someone else's experience in the practice area(s) in which they operate.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby abogadesq » Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:45 pm

Anonymous User wrote: OP-- what's are you looking for? Is it the salary that's the biggest issue, or is it that you also don't like the work as a PD? If you actually like the work, you could always consider applying for both offices in CA (as someone else mentioned) and with around 3 years experience and Spanish you could consider trying to move to federal PD offices. Both of those pay a lot better than most local PD offices. If it's that you don't like the work as a PD, my recommendation would be to get out as quickly as you can. You're still only in your first year as a PD, so I don't think you've pigeon-holed yourself into this type of work yet. I'd say hustle your ass off and try to find anything you can in a civil practice area that's relatively lucrative (like commercial lit). If I were in that position, I'd even be willing to take a pay-cut just for the experience and opportunity to build my resume towards something better paying in the future. Definitely don't stay at the PD's office for 2-3 years if you don't like the work because it's going to get harder and harder to get out of it with the more time you get into a PD's office. I don't think the vast majority of civil litigation firms are going to value your PD experience nearly as much as they'll value someone else's experience in the practice area(s) in which they operate.


I like my PD job a lot (see my first post), I'm just looking for something that pays more. I do speak Spanish, so federal PD sounds worth a shot. I don't think I've ever seen federal PD openings on USAJobs. How hard are they to come by?

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 16, 2016 9:11 pm

abogadesq wrote:
Anonymous User wrote: OP-- what's are you looking for? Is it the salary that's the biggest issue, or is it that you also don't like the work as a PD? If you actually like the work, you could always consider applying for both offices in CA (as someone else mentioned) and with around 3 years experience and Spanish you could consider trying to move to federal PD offices. Both of those pay a lot better than most local PD offices. If it's that you don't like the work as a PD, my recommendation would be to get out as quickly as you can. You're still only in your first year as a PD, so I don't think you've pigeon-holed yourself into this type of work yet. I'd say hustle your ass off and try to find anything you can in a civil practice area that's relatively lucrative (like commercial lit). If I were in that position, I'd even be willing to take a pay-cut just for the experience and opportunity to build my resume towards something better paying in the future. Definitely don't stay at the PD's office for 2-3 years if you don't like the work because it's going to get harder and harder to get out of it with the more time you get into a PD's office. I don't think the vast majority of civil litigation firms are going to value your PD experience nearly as much as they'll value someone else's experience in the practice area(s) in which they operate.


I like my PD job a lot (see my first post), I'm just looking for something that pays more. I do speak Spanish, so federal PD sounds worth a shot. I don't think I've ever seen federal PD openings on USAJobs. How hard are they to come by?


Understandable re: wanting something that pays more. The vast majority of local or state PD salaries are outright unreasonable, in my opinion. The fact that you speak Spanish is a pretty big deal, and will help you a ton with Fed PD offices. If your still in your first year as a PD, I'd say give it another year or so before you start applying. Most offices want people with around 3-5 years of experience, but you can probably do with with just a couple years of experience (assuming you have a good amount of felony trial experience).

A fed PD position is incredibly difficult to get for a number of reasons. It's hard to explain, but hiring at offices is incredibly idiosyncratic and depends on what the particular federal defender/executive director there is looking for. In less competitive rural districts, you're still up against 100 other applicants, and in more competitive districts (like SDNY), you're up against 1000s of other applicants. So the offices can really pick and choose who they want based on what's important to them. One challenge with moving from local PD to fed PD is most offices want people who can hit the ground running with little or no training, so it can help if you go from your local PD office to private practice and get on the CJA panel, since that way you'd get fed criminal experience (and you'll also start meeting people from that fed defender office in court). But even getting that experience and becoming friends with people at the fed defender offices doesn't mean that the fed defender/executive director still won't hire someone with a just a couple years of experience as a law clerk (or possibly something else) over you (because hiring is very idiosyncratic).

Going to a local PD's office in CA is another option. They make 6 figures with just a few years of experience in many counties, so not a bad gig. With experience as a PD, I imagine you'll at least be competitive in some CA counties.

Good luck.

EDIT- it's also worth noting that they work that fed PDs do is significantly different than what you do as a local PD. Basically what it comes down to is that the USAO doesn't prosecute cases that it isn't pretty much guaranteed to win. (I'm not saying they don't ever lose, but it's very rare.). So almost all of the work you do at a federal defender's office is related to sentencing and mitigating the defendant's sentence. Trials are actually pretty rare in most districts (there are some districts where the AUSAs are complete assholes and will only give shitty plea agreements, so in those districts, I think they go to trial more frequently, but even then, you're talking about maybe going to trial once or twice a year). It's pretty different than working as a trial PD at the local level, and it's not for everyone.
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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 16, 2016 9:17 pm

.

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Re: Exit Options for Public Defenders

Postby crescentstars » Fri Jun 17, 2016 4:02 am

Anonymous User wrote:I'm in a very similar position and want to thank you for starting this thread! I'll give you my thoughts and hopefully others can chime in.

My plan is to try and score a job with a civil non-profit and just see where that takes me. I feel like working at a PD gives you the liberal cred to get like a housing assistance etc. job. Working in a civil field should translate better into private practice in the future. Unfortunately PD work comes with a kind of stigma outside the legal world and within it to a certain extent. I think if you switch to civil non-profit it will be way easier to go private in whatever civil field than from criminal defense. I would be really grateful if someone from a civil non-profit could chime in about how PD's would be perceived at their organization.

Another option would be to go prosecution for a year or two. It's unfortunate for us, but it seems like a DA job is a good jumping off point for pretty much anything other than biglaw. Depending on where you are getting a prosecutor job after a few years in a PD should be fairly straight forward.

A few people in my office left for private practice and came back. They basically got something like 100 trials under their belts and then were just the trial guys for the midsize firms that picked them up. One of them didn't even do any criminal stuff. Makes sense, I mean I don't think that too many senior associates have voir dired a hundred juries, always good to have those specialized skills.

I'd say that Miami is definitely a nationally recognized office within PD circles but I'm not sure about outside of that. The reason it's well known is because the LARGE amount of trials everyone does there. So even if it doesn't carry the weight of Bronx you will be able to say that you've done A LOT of trials.

If you are open geographically and would prefer to stay in public defense it's worth looking into California. A lot of the counties out there pay pretty well, low 6 figures once you're at 5 years or so of experience.


Would you mind PMing me? I'm curious to know more about your steps for transitioning out/what you know about that process. And I'd like to know more about what you mean re: the stigma surrounding PD work.



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