Understanding the Difference Between a Criminal Lawyer and Public Defender

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
July 15, 2023

If you have been accused of a crime, you have several important decisions to make. One of the first choices you may contemplate is whether you want to seek a public or private attorney. Discovering the differences between the two may seem complex, but we have laid them out so you can decide what works best for you.

No matter what you decide, you deserve a lawyer who represents you in the best way possible. Our trustworthy and well-versed legal team at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., may be able to help you present your case with our innovative approach, top-notch resources, and steadfast dedication to your situation. 

What Is the Difference Between a Public Defender and a Criminal Lawyer?

When looking into public and private attorneys, there is a lot to consider. Factors like time, communication, choice, and resources all play an important role in the difference between the two. It is also important to note that those who cannot afford a private attorney are the only individuals who qualify for a public defender. Therefore, if you exceed the income limit, you are not eligible for a public defender unless the judge grants you special permission for one. Other differences between a public and private defender include the following:


Public defenders can do excellent work, but they take on much larger caseloads than a private attorney who chooses their own cases. Pennsylvania assigns public defenders cases to work on, so they do not get to select their own based on their preference or schedule. Because of the large volume of cases they are assigned, a public defender may not be able to spend as much time on your case as a private lawyer would, which can result in them knowing less about your situation and missing key elements of your case. 


Private attorneys tend to exercise a more personalized, focused approach, so they can tailor their schedules to allow for close communication with you. Public defenders have less time to work one-on-one, so the line of communication may not be as strong. Private lawyers also have more availability and will often communicate with you outside of their working hours to hear every detail of your case and provide the best possible defense. 


If you decide to go with a public defender for your case, the state of Pennsylvania will assign you one without your choice. On the other hand, you can pick the exact lawyer you want if you decide on a private attorney. Private lawyers often ask for your input on decision-making and answer any questions you may have. The choice of hiring a private attorney gives you more of a say in how you are represented than a public defender.


Another difference between public and private defenders is potential access to resources. A Pennsylvania public defender may be limited in how they can help you since the state only gives them access to certain resources. Private attorneys often have better resources like private investigators to get more information and do more research for your case. Typically, private lawyers also have relationships with other prosecutors and attorneys, which can make them more knowledgeable.


Public defenders often take on a wide variety of cases in many different practice areas. While they may be knowledgeable about most criminal charges, they may also have less experience in the field you need. Private lawyers, on the other hand, typically specialize in certain areas so they can have a more informed and well-versed approach to your case. 

At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., we specialize in personal injury and criminal defense specifically, so we have spent our decades of experience perfecting our approaches to these types of cases. A public defender would not be able to do this because they do not get to pick the cases they take on. 

Contact a Skilled Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C. for a Free Consultation

If you have been charged with a crime and need representation, the process can be complicated. It is essential to consider your specific needs and what you are looking for in an attorney. If you select a private lawyer, our team may be able to assist you in providing the best path forward. We offer free initial consultations.

At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., our talented attorneys have over 65 years of experience serving the Southeastern Pennsylvania area. We have the time, communication skills, and resources to offer you the best defense possible. Call us at (215) 822-7575 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
July 15, 2023
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.