The Duty of a Public Defender
I read in the news that once again, first-year lawyers on Wall Street will make more money than I do.
I am in my 41st year of practice. I head a government law office with a multimillion-dollar budget. My office is entrusted with the property, liberty and lives of our clients.
I will be paid less this year than a lawyer who will likely not sign court papers, speak in a courtroom or make a decision affecting a case, for years to come. Though I am struck with the irony of this, I am not envious.
I am a public defender. My office represents people others despise. We come to know them often as victims of a lifetime of poverty, discrimination and violence. The law firm I work in doesn’t make our clients rich. In fact, most of them leave our care headed to prison for years.
Hopefully they will leave knowing that someone not related to them recognized that they were someone worth fighting for — possibly for the first time in their life.
My work has not lead to positions on corporate boards. I won’t be endowing a chair at my law school when I retire. Or spending summers at my mountain home and winters at my beach house. The wicker chair and ceiling fan of my back porch will do me just fine.
â€‹Like public defenders and legal aid workers everywhere, I will consider myself privileged to have had a chance to try to help people who truly needed help, and blessed to have done so surrounded by extraordinarily talented and hard-working people dedicated to the welfare of others. That, as someone else’s client has said, is “priceless.”