Take home message: When caseloads were reduced through the injection of significant additional funds in Brooklyn, measurable improvements to the quality of representation occurred.

Full report: Labriola, M., Farley, E. J. and Rempel, M. (2015). Indigent Defense Reforms in Brooklyn, New York: An Analysis of Madatory Case Caps and Attorney Workload. (New York, NY, Center for Court Innovation). 

The details: Between 2009 and 2014, New York City providers of indigent legal services received funds from the state to work toward compliance with a rule capping criminal caseloads at 400 misdemeanors and 150 felony assignments per year.  When that rule came into effect in 2014, the additional funding had allowed the two institutional providers of representation in Kings County – the borough of Brooklyn – to reduce their caseloads “from 550 to 358…a 29.1 percent reduction” (p. iv).  The total of new funding across the city in 2015 was $55.6 million on top of its base budget of $157.9 million, an increase of 35.2|PERCENT|.

The new funding also resulted in a doubling of non-attorney staff (see table Comparing 2009 and 2014 By The Numbers below), and in organizational changes.

Referrals to social workers, investigators and immigration attorney staff all rose.  New in-house training opportunities were created, the systems for mentoring novitiate attorneys was reformed, and specialist positions dedicated to mental health and veteran issues were created.  The authors also interviewed local judges who said they had seen improvements in representation due to these new investigative, social work and immigration resources.

The authors surveyed attorneys within the providers and showed that while improvements had been made, they still did not have enough time to complete certain tasks, including meeting with clients in custody, examining physical evidence, and visiting alleged crime scenes, among others.  Attorneys also noted that their need for social workers had increased at a rate faster than the providers had hired them, one attorney commenting ‘We don’t have enough of them, so I often find myself doing their jobs in addition to my own” (p. 30).  The authors conducted a ‘Delphi’ study wherein they asked attorneys how much time they thought they really needed to provide effective representation, resulting in recommendations still lower than the standard imposed by the new caseload cap (see table, Delphi Study Results: Case Weights).

Comparing 2009 and 2014 By The Numbers in Brooklyn

  Brooklyn in 2009 Brooklyn in 2014
Misdemeanor cases per attorney (felonies weighted at 2.67) 505 358
Attorney staff 196 282
Investigator staff 12 23
Social worker staff 11 27
Paralegal staff 11 22
Administrative staff 31 47
Non-attorney management staff 8 20
Referrals to immigration attorneys 417 1,250 (2013)
Referrals to social workers (1 provider) 589 675 (2013)
Referrals to investigators (1 provider) 2,458 3,447 (2013)

Delphi Study Results: Case Weights

Case type Hours of attorney work required
Probation 8
DWI 38
Misdemeanor 5
Unindicted felonies 16
Indicted non-violent felonies 35
Indicted violent felonies 67
Youthful offender – misdemeanor 12
Youthful offender – felony 42