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The Difference Between a Private Attorney & Public Defenders

When faced with criminal charges, you have many significant choices to make—whether you should plead guilty or not or accept a penalty suggested by the court. Making these decisions can be nerve-wracking, especially if this is your first time in a courtroom or in front of a judge. As stated by the 6th Amendment of the Constitution, all accused shall have the right to a speedy and public trial and to have the assistance of counsel for the defense.

This begs the question, do you opt for a public defender, or would you benefit from a private attorney on your side? The attorneys at Andrew Beasley are experienced with Nashville’s criminal defense and believe you should have all the facts before deciding who will best represent you in a court of law. Take a look at the difference between public defenders and private attorneys to better understand how your legal counsel will defend you.

What is a Public Defender?

Simply put, when arrested, you have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you—this is where public defenders come into play. A public defender represents people who are facing criminal charges and cannot afford a private attorney to handle their case. These licensed attorneys work for and are paid by the government, meaning you will not be responsible for any legal fees associated with your counsel.

What is a Private Attorney?

Much like public defenders, private attorneys have graduated from an accredited law school and passed the bar exam for the state in which they practice. Private attorneys, though, are hired by the defendant or the defendant’s family to represent them in court and fight for a lesser sentence. Additionally, it’s the responsibility of the defendant to pay all legal fees for this representation. 

The Key Differences

Although private attorneys and public defenders are fighting for the same cause—to win your case and provide you with legal counsel—there are significant differences in how they operate.


Public defenders work on a variety of cases, ranging from petty theft and DUIs to assault and drug charges. This range of experience is beneficial to defendants who have been charged with one of these crimes, but some public defenders may not be as knowledgeable or experienced as private attorneys in these practice areas. 

Unlike public defenders, private attorneys can decide what kind of criminal law they practice. While public defenders are “assigned” cases, private attorneys “take cases” willingly, especially if those cases include criminal charges they’re deeply familiar with. While public defenders don’t have a choice in the cases they’re assigned, private attorneys do. As such, private attorneys only take cases in their specialized practice areas, or such cases they think they can win given their unique skillset and experience.

Caseload Sizes

When it comes to caseloads, public defenders do not have the ability to refuse to represent a client without proper legal cause. For this reason, public defenders often have an overwhelming caseload. Due to lack of resources and time available to dedicate to a comprehensive defense, public defenders can sometimes push for a plea bargain.

On the other hand, private attorneys have the right to refuse any client for almost any reason. This results in private attorneys having lighter caseloads and the ability to focus their resources more diligently on your case.

Communication Timeframes

Communication is key in any legal defense. You need time to discuss with your legal counsel the ramifications of your case, including your side of the story, expectations for court, strategies, and more. Unfortunately, due to the heavy workload public defenders have, you will likely only meet with them once before your court date.

Because private attorneys are hired specifically to defend you to the best of their ability, they have a more flexible schedule to meet with you and discuss your case—allowing for a more thorough investigation and review of your file. 

You Get to Choose

The relationship between an attorney and their client is incredibly important in order to receive the most beneficial representation. When hiring a private attorney, you get to choose the one you want to defend your case. You have the ability to interview as many attorneys as you feel necessary before determining who is the most qualified and within your budget. Public defenders, on the other hand, are assigned to cases at random, eliminating the opportunity to choose for yourself. 

Which Option is Best for You?

When you’ve just been arrested for a serious criminal act or have a family member in need of legal counsel, representation is the first thing you should take into consideration. Whether you have the funds necessary to hire a private lawyer or not, everyone is entitled to a fair and competent legal advocate for their rights and freedoms. Public defenders are a vital part of the American justice system, and they do excellent and thankless work day in and day out. But when your freedom, finances, and pursuit of happiness are on the line, you may want to consider a more dedicated legal counsel beyond the easiest available resource.

At Andrew Beasley Attorneys at Law, our professional team is here for you and your family. With our comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system and track record of success, we can provide the legal counsel required to defend your rights.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in Nashville, TN

The attorneys at Andrew Beasley are specialized in criminal defense cases, including drug crimes, assault, DUIs, federal crimes, and more. If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime and requires powerful legal representation, look no further than Andrew Beasley. No matter the charges you may be facing, our team is committed to defending your rights and fighting for a favorable resolution. Contact us today at 615-620-5803 to schedule a free consultation.

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