"Lawyers Work at a Substantial Discount"

It was noted that in Wisconsin lawyers appointed to represent indigent people by the government do so at a substantial discount from their usual fees. Lawyers in private practice representing people at government expense when they can't afford to hire their own lawyers are not paid what they normally make on such cases. They are usually paid about one-tenth to one-sixth what the government pays when it hires lawyers to represent it in important matters.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that lawyers have an obligation to the justice system which requires that the government not have to actually pay them for their work. The rate for lawyers appointed by the State Public Defender is usually about $10 - $25 per hour less than it costs them to keep their offices open. That is, they are generally paying money out of pocket by taking those cases. When paid by the County (which is usually reimbursed by the defendant) they are paid more and actually may earn a small profit (if they don't have too expensive an office). They are still working to take home about a third what they do when representing others. Many lawyers financially cannot do this at all and do not accept such appointments, wanting to do other things like feed children at home. We, the public, owe a very real debt of gratitude to those who are willing to do so. (Most lawyers who do not accept such appointments perform other community service legal work for free or at substantial discounts, often for charitable organizations.)

Most cases handled by the Public Defender's office are handled by staff attorneys on salary. Their current caseloads are substantially higher than what the American Bar Association says a public defender can responsibly handle. They are well-trained, experienced, and dedicated attorneys, but very busy. Because of the economies of specialization and scale, staff attorneys on salary also cost the taxpayers substantially less than do the private bar appointments even at the very low amounts paid to private bar attorneys.

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