NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City public defenders are more than just attorneys — they’re social workers, head hunters, detectives, and more importantly, hustlers.
From managing almost 100 cases to covering arraignments, the lawyers are always on the go while juggling a wide array of responsibilities to best represent their clients.
“It’s busy and quick,” said Kirlyn Joseph, a public defender in the Queens Defenders’ office. “There’s a lot you have to do in a short amount of time.”
The lawyers in the Queens Defenders’ office typically do a weekly shift at arraignments where they handle dozens of desk appearance tickets and manage 60-100 cases waiting to go before a judge, Joseph said.
Arraignments entail interviewing the defendants, reading the file, contacting the family, and verifying employment and housing — all before the case is called, Joseph said.
“The key to it is being able to connect with the clients and to get them to trust you,” said Joseph, who has been a public defender for 32 years.
Joseph said she decided to be a defense lawyer when she noticed many of the people in her neighborhood growing up in Queens were being arrested.
Outside of court, the lawyers have approximately 80 cases to handle. And besides the legal work, they help their clients look for jobs, find proper attire for interviews, set up child care, substance abuse treatment, secure housing, and other social services. Public defenders also handle family court cases when minors are arrested.
But all of that effort is often lost on the public. The perception that public defenders are not as qualified as private attorneys irk the hard-working staff.
Public defenders, however, feel their expertise in criminal law and access to the city’s resources is an advantage over private attorneys. Public defenders also recruit from top law schools in New York City and across the country, Joseph said.
“It is really unfair,” she added. “I would hear ‘public defenders won’t work as hard or won’t do as good a job.’ This is one of those jobs you have to love to do.”