Retained criminal defense attorneys deliver results that are objectively better than those of other types of criminal defense attorneys.
“I’m retained on this one.”
Numerous times during my career as your local prosecutor, defense attorneys approached me about settling their clients’ cases and opened the conversation with that sentence.
At the time, I had never handled any criminal defense, so I didn’t understand why they said that. I thought it had something to do with how much of a break I should cut the defendant. As in, “You need to cut this guy a break because I am retained.”
I thought it also had something to do with them telling me how hard a fight I should expect.
Now that I have done some criminal defense, I understand the thought process a lot better.
When I first opened my law firm, I accepted appointed criminal cases. It didn’t take me long to figure out that appointed criminal cases can’t be part of a feasible business plan. I found that clients brought me all the work I wanted at my real hourly rate. Alternatively, I could take some of that time and put it into appointed criminal defense at less than one-third of my real rate. That made no sense, so I stopped taking appointed criminal cases.
And for anyone who believes that a lawyer should serve the profession by taking appointed criminal cases for more than the first few months, I will remind you that I, being one-fifth of the prosecutorial workforce, did over half the work that got done in the DA’s Office–for 24 years. I served the profession profusely before opening my private law firm.
Now, I have learned that there is objective, scientific evidence that retained, private lawyers just deliver better results than do appointed lawyers.
Thomas Cohen, a statistician for the United States Department of Justice, authored a study in which he compared the work of private attorneys, public defenders, and appointed attorneys. There was a stark difference in results.
The biggest difference between results delivered by private attorneys vs. those delivered by public defenders was in the percentage chance of being sentenced to incarceration. A defendant who relies on the public defender is 10% more likely to be sentenced to incarceration than if he had hired a private attorney.
For appointed defense attorneys (the system used in Cherokee County and every Alabama county that borders it) the difference is even starker. While the chance of being sentenced to incarceration is about the same as for a public defender (10% higher than with retained attorneys), the big difference is in sentence length. The clients of appointed attorneys receive sentences averaging 37% longer than do those of retained attorneys.
Followup studies found that the clients of appointed attorneys are more likely to be convicted than are the clients of retained attorneys.
Someone will decry the injustice of appointed attorneys delivering inferior results. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge, you can complain about the system too, or you can beg or borrow the money you need to hire a retained attorney. I know which I would do.