Any Federal Public Defenders here?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:38 pm

The background check is not strict. It's the same basic background check required if you do a clerkship or work for the federal courts in any capacity (FPDs are technically part of the US Courts). As best I can recall, they just run your fingerprints, check for a criminal record, and maybe pull your credit report. No one asks about prior drug use or anything like that.

The only exception is if you get assigned a case with classified discovery (terrorism cases typically), in which case the AFPD has to get a security clearance. But those cases are very rare, and if you couldn't get a security clearance, the case would just be reassigned.

Lurker19

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Lurker19 » Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:41 pm

Thanks for the info!

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:48 pm

Has anyone here worked in a research and writing attorney/specialist gig? How was it like?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:35 am

I am a current research and writing specialist. it's a good job, but from what I can tell, duties vary a lot between offices and districts. Some handle initial appearances and bond hearings, but more often I think they handle motions and appellate briefs. I do mostly appeals, including the occasional cert petition (that always gets me dreaming about arguing in front of SCOTUS, but lol, no). I also do small informal research assignments along the lines of "Hey Joe, can you look into [legal issue x] and see if we can do y?" and then I get back to them a little while later with the answer, which is invariably "no".

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I am a current research and writing specialist. it's a good job, but from what I can tell, duties vary a lot between offices and districts. Some handle initial appearances and bond hearings, but more often I think they handle motions and appellate briefs. I do mostly appeals, including the occasional cert petition (that always gets me dreaming about arguing in front of SCOTUS, but lol, no). I also do small informal research assignments along the lines of "Hey Joe, can you look into [legal issue x] and see if we can do y?" and then I get back to them a little while later with the answer, which is invariably "no".


Thanks for the response. I'm currently trying to decide between this position and an assistant general counsel position. The counsel position covers a variety of fields, but litigation is mostly administrative. I love criminal law, but it sounds like courtroom litigation is limited in the R&W position (hopefully it could become an AFPD position?). Do you get to interact with clients, witnesses, or family members at all?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:43 pm

The chances of converting a R&W job to an AFPD job are good, but unless you are geographically flexible, or your office is larger, you might have to wait a long time. I will pretty much have to move or wait 5+ years if I ever want to get an AFPD position. I'm not 100% that I do, since I feel like I might want to take a shot at other fedgov positions before I completely lock myself into a career in criminal law (if I haven't done so already, we'll see). But for now, FPD is in general a great place to work.

I get plenty of opportunity for client contact, I handle sentencing memorandums fairly often, which usually involves at least one lengthy interview with the client. On some cases, I will tag along for witness interviews, or client meetings with family. I made it clear in my interviews that I wanted something that didn't involve just sitting in an office by myself staring at a screen all day. Some R&W positions may be like that (since frankly, so many legal jobs are like that). But I think that's mostly not the case.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:50 pm

Anonymous User wrote:The chances of converting a R&W job to an AFPD job are good, but unless you are geographically flexible, or your office is larger, you might have to wait a long time. I will pretty much have to move or wait 5+ years if I ever want to get an AFPD position. I'm not 100% that I do, since I feel like I might want to take a shot at other fedgov positions before I completely lock myself into a career in criminal law (if I haven't done so already, we'll see). But for now, FPD is in general a great place to work.

I get plenty of opportunity for client contact, I handle sentencing memorandums fairly often, which usually involves at least one lengthy interview with the client. On some cases, I will tag along for witness interviews, or client meetings with family. I made it clear in my interviews that I wanted something that didn't involve just sitting in an office by myself staring at a screen all day. Some R&W positions may be like that (since frankly, so many legal jobs are like that). But I think that's mostly not the case.


Understood. I take it that the speed of grade promotion also varies by office? In many federal executive agencies, attorney's move up one GS grade a year before reaching the max grade allowed. R&W positions seem to end at JSP-15, which is equivalent to the GS-15 and awesome for a job in indigent criminal defense.

EDIT: Oh also, how are the hours like?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:50 pm

Hours are 8-5 here, and I can keep to that and still take an hour for lunch unless I fuck-up my time management, then it's till whenever it takes to meet a deadline.

Salary is something that varies dramatically, can't really say how it works. I got a slight bump from my previous salary coming from a two year clerkship, but I will be stuck in mid gs-13 equivalence for awhile unless I change jobs. The R&W positions max out at gs-15 equivalence, but I really don't know how common it is to get there. Not very, I think.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jun 24, 2018 10:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Hours are 8-5 here, and I can keep to that and still take an hour for lunch unless I fuck-up my time management, then it's till whenever it takes to meet a deadline.

Salary is something that varies dramatically, can't really say how it works. I got a slight bump from my previous salary coming from a two year clerkship, but I will be stuck in mid gs-13 equivalence for awhile unless I change jobs. The R&W positions max out at gs-15 equivalence, but I really don't know how common it is to get there. Not very, I think.


It's a shame I can't PM you due to the anon feature - you've been a big help! I'm still trying to balance the pros and cons of the job. In stateside PD, the hours could get rough and weekends were not uncommon. It could get quite stressful and affect my health. I love indigent criminal law, but I left that stateside PD because of the meager salary coupled with the hours and stress. In considering working in the fed PD office, I know the stress element will always be there since it's criminal law, and that does not deter me. I'm just weary of being so pummeled with work like I was stateside that I seriously question whether I can competently represent people while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Based on your response and what others say, that doesn't seem to be the case generally for either the AFPD or R&W attorney positions. The other fed atty position I'm considering, in contrast, sounds like it would be a cakewalk in terms of work and in level of stress...but my spirit needs a challenge, and few are greater than fighting government overreach! Yeah, I think I've made my decision. Thanks, all 8)

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jun 25, 2018 11:18 am

That's great, congrats on your decision, it seems like most people here are glad to be here and stay long term, which is not something you find in most legal jobs. I know how you feel about PD life, I spent my first year and a half of law school assuming I would start out being a state-level PD. Then I worked in a mid-sized city PD office my 2L summer and realized how poorly resourced they are. I enjoyed the legal work, but unless you can land a job in a good district, you're stuck with long hours, low pay and shitty resources. It really hadn't sunk in how unhappy I'd be working that hard in tough conditions for $50k. I also noticed how high the turnover rate was and figured lots of other people were making the same decision.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Quichelorraine » Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:26 pm

Possibly silly question about FPD offices: am I correct in understanding that some offices are technically part of the federal courts, whereas others are freestanding not-for-profits? For instance, it looks like Philly's is actually part of the government, whereas New York's is a standalone not-for-profit. Correct/incorrect?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby RedPurpleBlue » Tue Jun 26, 2018 4:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I am a current research and writing specialist. it's a good job, but from what I can tell, duties vary a lot between offices and districts. Some handle initial appearances and bond hearings, but more often I think they handle motions and appellate briefs. I do mostly appeals, including the occasional cert petition (that always gets me dreaming about arguing in front of SCOTUS, but lol, no). I also do small informal research assignments along the lines of "Hey Joe, can you look into [legal issue x] and see if we can do y?" and then I get back to them a little while later with the answer, which is invariably "no".


I really enjoy legal research (and to an extent writing) but not really dealing with clients/lit, and I have a few questions about the R&W positions if you don't mind answering.

1. What is the typical starting pay/grade?
2. What are your typical hours?
3. What does a typical day look like for you from morning to departure?
4. Do you have to deal with clients frequently?
5. How interesting/novel are the research assignments?

Thanks!

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jul 02, 2018 12:48 am

Quichelorraine wrote:Possibly silly question about FPD offices: am I correct in understanding that some offices are technically part of the federal courts, whereas others are freestanding not-for-profits? For instance, it looks like Philly's is actually part of the government, whereas New York's is a standalone not-for-profit. Correct/incorrect?


You are correct that there are two types of federal defender organizations. First, there are Federal Public Defender offices, which are a part of the federal courts. If you work for the FPD, your paycheck comes from the US Treasury, and your HR and benefits are like any federal employee. Second, the are Federal Community Defender organizations, which are independent non-profits, which receive funding from the federal courts. The pay is the same as FPDs, but the benefits can be somewhat different than FPDs. Community Defender organizations will sometimes pay your bar dues, which FPDs are prohibited from doing. The FPD has federal retirement benefits and the TSP (the federal government version of a 401(k)).

Both Philly and New York are actually Community Defender organizations. If an office is named anything other than the "Federal Public Defender," it's a community defender. Practically, aside from some minor differences in HR and benefits, I don't think it makes a huge difference what type of organization you work for.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:20 am

RedPurpleBlue wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I am a current research and writing specialist. it's a good job, but from what I can tell, duties vary a lot between offices and districts. Some handle initial appearances and bond hearings, but more often I think they handle motions and appellate briefs. I do mostly appeals, including the occasional cert petition (that always gets me dreaming about arguing in front of SCOTUS, but lol, no). I also do small informal research assignments along the lines of "Hey Joe, can you look into [legal issue x] and see if we can do y?" and then I get back to them a little while later with the answer, which is invariably "no".


I really enjoy legal research (and to an extent writing) but not really dealing with clients/lit, and I have a few questions about the R&W positions if you don't mind answering.

1. What is the typical starting pay/grade?
2. What are your typical hours?
3. What does a typical day look like for you from morning to departure?
4. Do you have to deal with clients frequently?
5. How interesting/novel are the research assignments?

Thanks!


1. It totally varies. R&Ws are on the JSP payscale, which is identical to the GS scale. Where you get placed on that scale depends on how many years of experience. You max out at level 15, but it can take a while. Also, individual Defenders have some flexibility regarding where to start people, so it also depends on if your boss is generous or stingy. Overall, FPD pay is solid federal pay and better than state PDs almost everywhere.

2. Depends on your office, time management skills, etc. Usually, it's pretty manageable, but I stayed late and worked weekends when I had a brief filing coming up, though that may say more about my time management skills than anything else...

3. Mostly it looks like sitting in my office doing legal research and writing. I'm not trying to be snotty, but R&Ws do tend to have long blocks of time at their desk, far more so than trial AFPDs, who are going to court, jail, probation interviews, etc. If you get lonely or bored sitting at your desk doing research and writing for long stretches, it's not a good job for you.

4. R&Ws can be used differently based on the office. So ask at an interview if you get that far. In my office, the AFPD on the case was always the primary contact person for the client, but I did have some interaction. I'm a bit puzzled that you want to do PD work but don't want to interact with clients. I'm nerdy and love legal research and writing, but I've found client interactions (especially when you get a good result or appreciative comments) to be one of the more rewarding parts of the job.

5. I guess it depends on what you find interesting! But in most offices, you will work on a lot of different issues: Fourth Amendment, Miranda, categorical approach/crime of violence analysis, bail motions, Sentencing Guidelines, and many other random topics that you wouldn't expect.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:23 am

Anonymous User wrote:You are correct that there are two types of federal defender organizations. First, there are Federal Public Defender offices, which are a part of the federal courts. If you work for the FPD, your paycheck comes from the US Treasury, and your HR and benefits are like any federal employee. Second, the are Federal Community Defender organizations, which are independent non-profits, which receive funding from the federal courts. The pay is the same as FPDs, but the benefits can be somewhat different than FPDs. Community Defender organizations will sometimes pay your bar dues, which FPDs are prohibited from doing. The FPD has federal retirement benefits and the TSP (the federal government version of a 401(k)).


Thanks for this, I work for the FPD and didn't know this. So the Community Defenders don't get access to TSP? Do they have something else comparable? That's kind of a big benefit, it includes a 5% match to your pay. What about annual and sick leave?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:51 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:You are correct that there are two types of federal defender organizations. First, there are Federal Public Defender offices, which are a part of the federal courts. If you work for the FPD, your paycheck comes from the US Treasury, and your HR and benefits are like any federal employee. Second, the are Federal Community Defender organizations, which are independent non-profits, which receive funding from the federal courts. The pay is the same as FPDs, but the benefits can be somewhat different than FPDs. Community Defender organizations will sometimes pay your bar dues, which FPDs are prohibited from doing. The FPD has federal retirement benefits and the TSP (the federal government version of a 401(k)).


Thanks for this, I work for the FPD and didn't know this. So the Community Defenders don't get access to TSP? Do they have something else comparable? That's kind of a big benefit, it includes a 5% match to your pay. What about annual and sick leave?


I also work for the FPD, so I don't know the exact details. (And I also suspect that benefits vary somewhat among the different community defender offices.) I heard this info from a colleague who previously worked for a community defender in another district. I believe my colleague said they had 401(k) instead of the TSP. But I didn't ever ask about employer match, leave, or anything that granular. My colleague generally said the benefits were pretty similar though.

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 02, 2018 7:10 pm

I know this might vary by office or district, but do FPD offices have attorneys who work on only appellate matters? Or does the same AFPD generally work on a case from trial to appeal?

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Re: Any Federal Public Defenders here?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 03, 2018 11:44 am

Anonymous User wrote:I know this might vary by office or district, but do FPD offices have attorneys who work on only appellate matters? Or does the same AFPD generally work on a case from trial to appeal?


It definitely varies by district (as does pretty much everything in the FPD universe!). Larger offices often have dedicated appellate units. Most smaller offices don't. But even in smaller offices, there are often attorneys (sometimes working in Research and Writing Attorney positions) who mostly do appeals and habeas, even if there isn't a formal appellate unit. Many individual FPD offices have websites listing the staff, and you can usually see that way if a particular office has an Appellate Unit. (Off the top of my head, I know that CD Cal, SD Cal, Ariz, SD/ED NY, and Colo all have appellate units.) Appellate unit jobs tend to be competitive, with many candidates having federal appellate clerkships.

Even in offices with dedicated appellate units, trial AFPDs will sometimes do the appeal. And it's not uncommon for an appellate AFPD to help with a trial team, especially in a legally complex case that is motions heavy (e.g., RICO, murder, or terrorism cases).



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