Solo Criminal Law Practice: The Downside

by Jamison Koehler on March 3, 2010

A couple of days ago, I crowed about the advantages of being a privately retained lawyer, as opposed to public defender. In fairness, I should note that private practice as a solo practitioner also has its downsides.

Yes, there is also a lot of paperwork as a public defender.  And yes, there may be some bureaucracy. But, for the most part, a public defender is freed up from many administrative and other responsibilities so that he or she can focus on the practice of criminal law.  Experience is experience, even if at times it seems like too much experience.

There are people to keep the supply cabinet full and to balance the books.  Depending on the size of the organization, there may be social workers, mental health experts, and personnel to handle probation and parole matters.  If the computer crashes or if there is a problem with a printer, you call the technical people and they come right over and fix it.  “Runners” pick up and deliver paperwork to the courts.  Paralegals and clerical staff reformat and submit motions, prepare sentencing guidelines, and handle the paperwork for expungements.  In addition, there is often an appeals division.  If you have a question about a particular case, you can sometimes talk to the very lawyer who argued it before the state’s supreme court.

You don’t have this support network as a private attorney out on your own. Unless you are successful enough to hire clerical staff or an associate or two, you have to do all these things yourself.  This is what I was thinking yesterday as I stood in line at the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, trying to figure out the labyrinthine system for obtaining a piece of paperwork for a client.  What was it about private practice that I thought appealed to me so much?

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