Criminal defense lawyer vs. Public defender – Which is right for you?


Criminal charges require legal representation. Hiring the right criminal defense attorney for your specific situation impacts your chances of getting charges reduced or dismissed. Two common options are private criminal defense lawyers and public defenders. However, they differ in their skills, resources, and costs.

Criminal defense lawyer

Criminal defense lawyers defend clients accused of crimes. A wide range of misdemeanor and felony cases are handled by them. Criminal lawyers work for private law firms and are hired directly by defendants or their families. The defendant pays an agreed-upon hourly rate, retainer fee, or flat fee for services. Costs vary greatly but easily exceed $100 per hour or $10,000+ for serious felonies.

Skills and resources

qualified criminal lawyer in Mississauga often have substantial expertise in criminal law and trial experience in local courts. Many focus exclusively on criminal defense and are very familiar with prosecutors and judges. Their clients’ cases receive significant time and resources. If they believe expert witnesses, investigators, or forensic specialists are needed, clients pay for those additional services. High-profile attorneys have greater name recognition which sway judges and jurors.


  • In-depth expertise in criminal defense
  • Flexibility and control over time/resources allocated
  • Ability to hire experts and specialists
  • Reputation and relationships with court players
  • Focus is solely on their client’s best interests
  • Greater personalized attention and accessibility

Public defender

Public defenders are criminal lawyers assigned by the court to represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys. Defendants qualifying based on income criteria receive free legal defense. Public defenders work for government agencies funded by states or counties. They carry high caseloads and salaries much lower than private attorneys.

Skills and resources

Public defenders are generally skilled criminal trial lawyers with substantial courtroom experience who aim to provide the best defense possible. However, heavy caseloads and tight budgets mean they have limited time and fewer financial resources allocated to each client. Hiring extra investigators, and experts, or researching appeals requires special approval. Public perception is often negative due to assumptions that free court-appointed lawyers are less qualified or invested.


  • Free legal representation
  • Prompt availability and legal counsel
  • Specialized experience handling serious charges
  • Less vulnerable to biases against clients
  • The goal is to resolve cases quickly and fairly

Key differences in approaches

A private attorney focuses on tailoring the best defense for a single client at a time. Handling a diverse mix of cases allows for highly customized legal strategies and better investigations. Client satisfaction determines their pay. Public defenders juggle dozens of cases simultaneously. Cases rely more on established legal procedures given limited hours per client. Public defenders depend on salaries and are incentivized to close cases efficiently versus risking drawn-out trials.

Evaluate your finances and charges. Public defenders suit defendants with minimal income facing routine charges. Those able to pay more and dealing with severe, complex felonies prefer private lawyers. Assess your faith in public legal skills. Consider whether experts could bolster your case. Determine if a quick plea deal or lengthy trial is the priority. Weigh relationships with current and past defenders versus clean slates with new counsel. Ask trusted contacts for attorney referrals. Then select the criminal defense option offering the best match for your needs.


Finding the right criminal defense attorney for your case

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