PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

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PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jul 10, 2018 3:27 pm

Hi, all -

New (2017 grad) lawyer here. Hoping that the TLS fam can help me out with some advice. :D

I'm a law clerk, committed through November. I've been interviewing at public defenders and firms with robust criminal practices in the greater NYC area. I'm down to choosing between one PD offer and one firm offer.

The issues for me are money and exit opportunities.

I think either would be a great fit for me, although the firm would be vastly more money. I'd be doing much the same substantive work at the firm that I would with the PD, with the benefit of paying off loans. There are also issues back home that would make more money useful, lol. Buuuut the PD office is my dream job, and the position literally just opened up.

The second concern is that the PD said they were moving money around to hire me, but they would need me to leave my current position by mid-August. I let them know that I'd need to clear that with my boss first.
The firm is flexible as to timing. If I can't leave my current position early (without burning bridges with my current boss), & have to decline the PD offer, am I burning the PD bridge? Would the same office - or another - be willing to hire me in the future?


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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:00 pm

OP here, bumping and still hoping for advice.

Rereading my post, I kind of come off as an entitled dick, but I am serious about the question of which to choose. I started down the firm route because of family issues, which money would help. But my passion is for PD work, and if rejecting an offer from LAS/BDS/Bx. Def. means I get blacklisted from PD work, well, I need to be careful.

Thanks again.

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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby deadpanic » Thu Jul 12, 2018 10:35 pm

Let me caveat this by saying that I am not a criminal lawyer and never have practiced it, but wanted to throw in my 2 cents to see if this is possibly helpful. Some of this is probably common sense so I'm not being condescending, just trying to cover all bases.

First, if the PD job is your dream job, why would that not be a "great fit?"

Second, it is much more common to start out in a PD or DA office and move to private practice later. I don't think it would blackball you from ever joining a PD office, but that would be a weird move. It just seems unlikely because as you are getting older, money is going to be increasingly important if you are starting a family, buying a house, etc. So, you may not be able to go back financially and join the PD office and take a massive paycut if you have a mortgage.

You will have a much heavier caseload at PD. Have you ever interned at PD office? It can be a thankless job according to an acquaintance of mine who is also a true believer. You are going to have way too many clients to properly prepare and try several cases, although I am certain you will get a lot of courtroom & trial experience at PD or private practice.

The other tricky part is that you may not have an opening in private practice down the road if you go PD. Criminal defense (assuming this is mostly blue collar state crim defense (like DUI, drugs, robbery, etc.)) practices are very small operations that don't have the resources to just bring on another attorney at any time. You may have to strike out on your own.

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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Tanicius » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:40 am

OP, when you say the private firm job will cover your loans, what are we really talking about? That honestly surprises me to hear. Almost all of my friends who went private criminal defense feel completely trapped and unable to pay their loans at the rate they want to.

PD salaries tend to suck in NYC compared to the rest of the country, and that's before even accounting for the ridiculous COL of NYC. So that's a concern in and of itself. But I'd be shocked if the private firm is offering you enough that you can both afford the COL and any sizable student loan package. Are your loans just not that high?


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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby nixy » Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:24 am

I mean, clearly you don’t understand why anyone would do it because you clearly consider it contributes nothing to society, so not sure why you think that perspective would help someone who has already concluded that the PD office would be their dream job. And your definition of the Kool-aid was dismissive and insulting, so also not especially helpful to someone who wants to go into that field.

(And fwiw I’m not a defense attorney or anything close to it.)

(OP, I won’t fight about the above any longer. Unlike someone else here, I tend to think that going private is always an option for an experienced PD, but that it might be harder to go the other direction, if nothing else because taking a pay cut will be harder. Also it would be worth considering what kind of training you’d get at either place - both firms or PDs can vary a lot in this regard. It might be worth starting at the place with the best training, which could be either.

But if nothing else, I think both options are defensible here, so I don’t think you’re facing catastrophe with either one or anything like that. It will boil down more to your personal circumstances - how much difference the money makes and/or leaving in August and/or whatever else.)


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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby criminaltheory » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:24 pm

This is a nice problem to have. Personally I think the PD position offers more long-term options, but it depends on your family needs and debt load.

Having more money now is nice, but the calculus should also consider PSLF if you think you can/will stick around for 10 years. How much is vastly more money?

It also depends on the nature of the private firm - is it a Fancy Named Dude, and you're his associate who will go to status dates for continuances and generally play second-fiddle? Will you get good training? The experience at a private firm can vary. Is it a DUI firm, state, or do they take federal cases?

I think the NY offices have great reputations as PD offices, and as training offices. The exit options there will vary, but will be pretty good. You'll get lots of trial experience, be in charge of your cases, and perhaps most importantly, work in a large office of other defenders who will go on to do cool things. It's impossible to predict what doors might open up, but you'll develop a network.

The private firm might do the same, but you're also attached to the reputation of the Named Dude. This could be positive or negative. I'd also think about the extent to which you'll be expected/encouraged/allowed to bring in work or take cases on the outer-rim of your practice areas (post-conviction/appeals/etc) that might develop your skills/resume. A private firm also has to focus on getting cases; as a PD, you can focus on lawyering.

I don't think you'd be burning a bridge by not accepting the PD job, but if you're being offered your dream job, accept. Do you imagine just re-applying in 2 years? Why? I think it will be harder to join a PD office 5-10 years down the road, whereas if you want to go your own at that point, the PD will have prepared you to do so (and maybe even wiped out your debt).

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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:26 pm

May I know which criminal defense firm is it? As far as I know, none of them are actively hiring new grads.

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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby anon sequitur » Fri Jul 13, 2018 4:26 pm

Not enough pushback for the assertion that the firm pay is so great. OP, have you been given a salary range? Successful, experienced criminal defense attorneys can make a comfortable living, but firms that hire entry level attorneys? Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?


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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Aptitude » Fri Jul 13, 2018 7:07 pm


Make sure to vet the small firm before you make a decision. Small firms are really hit or miss. Remember, unlike at a big firm or government job, there's no HR so there aren't any management guidelines set out at all. You're really at the whim of whoever the partner or few partners are. And if you don't get along with your boss you're stuck with them. Another problem is, even at successful firms if there are two Partners, they may decide to split.

On the brightside, if it's a hit though, then it could be great, tight knit environment. Just make sure you can feel like you trust them and they're being sincere with you.

Also, I agree with the poster who mentioned PSLF as something to factor in (if you can manage to stay that long). Another thing to keep in mind is whether the PD office offers government benefits - the medical, pensions can be really good.

Some private criminal firms also handle public defense contracts, so you might be able to get the best of both worlds if your jurisdiction contracts firms for PD defense when there are conflicts.

Tanicius wrote:OP, when you say the private firm job will cover your loans, what are we really talking about? That honestly surprises me to hear. Almost all of my friends who went private criminal defense feel completely trapped and unable to pay their loans at the rate they want to.

I think it depends on what city that they're in in and what type of criminals they defend. I live in a very affluent city known for it's wealth from the tech industry (millionaires are quite common place), and there are criminal defense Attorneys here that do extremely well financially.

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Re: PD v. Crim. Defense Firm

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Jul 14, 2018 10:39 pm

OP, I wanted to be a PD straight out of law school but unfortunately was not selected.

I went into private practice with a well known solo practioner - the work was incredibly rewarding and I was doing complex and hands on legal issues, with supervision and support, that many of me peers were not even close to touching a couple months out of law school.

With that being said, I find it hard to move up much going into private practice so early. Many judges and law professors have a couple of ADA or PD work under their belt. I never desired to stay in private practice or open up my own practice so the moving forward process is challenging. So you have to consider long term goals as well.

Good luck!

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