What does a Public Defender do?

Public defenders are state’s employee attorneys appointed by a court to defend accused individuals that cannot afford their own legal representation. Public defenders provide representation, consultation, and advice to their clients and represent them during a criminal investigative proceeding.

Public defenders work with their clients, to prepare a defense, which includes conducting legal research, gathering facts, and interviewing the client and witnesses. They provide and discuss information, strategies, and development and arrange for their client’s bail to be set and bonds posted. Public defenders write motions, pleadings, and legal arguments, prepare legal documentation, and represent clients in court. They are responsible for pretrial discovery, withdraw pleas, suppression motions and appeals, and attend their clients’ sentencing. They also negotiate plea bargains, research laws, write documents to submit into court, represent their clients in court, and negotiate their clients’ plea bargains. Public defenders need a Juris Doctor degree and to pass the state bar exam.

What responsibilities are common for Public Defender jobs?
  • Negotiate plea bargains, dismissals, or other disposition of assigned cases with prosecuting attorneys.
  • Investigate facts and prepare defense for assigned cases to determine the merits of cases and appropriate course of action.
  • Maintain appropriate communication with client about status of the case and answers client questions.
  • May direct work of investigators consistent with internal office policies.
  • Identify potential legal issues to advance client's case, research applicable law, and draft appropriate motions and briefs.
  • Maintain client case files, prepare public defender time reports to the court, and close files consistent with office policies.
  • Consult with social workers, probation officers, judges and referees in order to determine appropriate treatment programs for clients as a part of defense strategy.
  • Prepare cases for defense of indigent persons charged with criminal offenses in district courts.
What are the typical qualifications for Public Defender jobs?
  • Juris Doctor.
  • A natural leader and problem solver with demonstrated critical thinking and collaboration skills.
  • Strict attention to detail.
  • Strong command of English language and good communication skills.
  • Able to display confidence, strong work ethic, and positive attitude.
Education--
Work/Life Balance
3.6 ★
Salary Range--
Career Opportunity
3.6 ★
Avg. Experience8+ years

Public Defender Salaries

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Glassdoor Estimated Salary

Public Defender Career Path

Learn how to become a Public Defender, what skills and education you need to succeed, and what level of pay to expect at each step on your career path.

Public Defender

Years of Experience Distribution

0 - 1
20%
2 - 4
25%
5 - 7
1%
8+
54%
Not including years spent in education and/or training

Public Defender Insights

Read what Public Defender professionals have to say about their job experiences and view top companies for this career.
Horrocks EngineersHorrocks Engineers
Public Involvement
28 Oct 2021

“Salary and not many bonus perks.”

Government of CanadaGovernment of Canada
Public Servant
25 Jan 2022

“Secure place to work and job security”

State of WisconsinState of Wisconsin
Assistant Public Defender
10 Aug 2021

“Everyone I work with is really dedicated and helpful.”

Oral Roberts UniversityOral Roberts University
Public Address Announcer
11 Aug 2020

“Everyone works together to solve whatever comes up to provide fans the best possible experience.”

Tulsa County Public Defenders
Assistant Public Defender
21 Sept 2021

“You don't have to tell people you can't help them if they can't pay you.”

Wake County Public DefenderWake County Public Defender
Assistant Public Defender
5 Nov 2020

“Job is demanding but people are great!”

British CouncilBritish Council
Public Servant
4 Aug 2022

“it is nice place to work”

Australian Department of DefenseAustralian Department of Defense
Public Servant
27 Oct 2020

“You receive good secure pay”

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Public Defender Interviews

Frequently asked questions about the role and responsibilities of a Public Defender

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Public Defender jobs