"JUST" a Court Appointed Lawyer?
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Occasionally we hear clients talk about previous cases and say, "Well, I JUST had a court appointed lawyer so I didn't have a REAL lawyer." Let's explain a little about what some folks might not know!
What is a Court Appointed Attorney?
If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you. Does that sound familiar? It should if you've ever watched courtroom TV shows or movies. You have to repay the cost at a later date, but at least you can have access to a lawyer on your side. So why do people keep using "Court Appointed" in a negative way? I'll outline a few misconceptions.
First of all, "Court Appointed" is not a synonym for seemingly inferior and sometimes incompetent. There are two main things to know.
1. Where court appointed attorneys come from.
2. What the difference is between a retained attorney and a court appointed one. (Hint: it's probably not what you think.)
Where do they come from?
Imagine sitting in a courtroom alone, the judge in front of you, things are happening quickly and you don't understand them. You don't have any money for a lawyer! What are you supposed to do?
You are given a sheet of paper (application for a court appointed attorney) and you dutifully fill it out. Jump forward in time now, and *poof* an attorney/lawyer contacts you. So how did that happen?
1. That jurisdiction has a Public Defenders Office who specifically has lawyers on staff.
2. They are lawyers who have their own law firm and they ALSO take court appointed cases. (We fall into that category)
Which one is better?
It's like mystery Jelly Belly beans. You will not know until you bite into them.
(We are not advising you bite your lawyer, this is just a metaphor)
Each lawyer out there is uniquely different. Some are more qualified, some have more experience, some are simply more driven. Each. Is. Different. This goes for attorneys at the public defenders office, and the one down the street with a nice sign and building.
What's the difference then?
That's easy to answer! YOU!
You don't get to pick your Court Appointed Attorney, but you do get to pick your attorney if you retain one.
(Retaining is kind of a fancy term for "hiring", fyi)
Guess what! Sometimes you can even get lucky and get appointed the lawyer you wanted, or a really good one you didn't know existed.
But so many places don't have a Public Defenders Office!
Out west here, many jurisdictions can't afford to sustain their own public defenders office. In many place like Butte, Meade, and Harding County, attorneys have their own law firms and also take court appointed cases. That's what we do! We work just as hard at both types of cases (court appointed and retained).
So, what if you're in Lawrence County? They have a public defenders office, but sometimes the lawyers may "conflict out" of a case. That means they have a conflict and cannot defend a certain individual. For example, two people break into a house and get charged with burglary. One public defender can't represent them both, and the other lawyer on duty is the friend of the individual who was the victim of the crime! While this is a made-up scenario, it shows why some lawyers get appointed to defend clients even if they have their own practice.
There's really no inherent difference between a court appointed lawyer and a retained one. Sometimes, you get a lawyer appointed to you and they have their own private firm!
We hope this helps! If you have questions or think we can help, please contact our office!