Public Defenders' Pragmatic Motivations: A Qualitative and Inductive Study

Michael Scott Weiss, Rowan University

Open-ended interviews with nearly fifty public defenders in three sites found that public defenders are motivated by a series of both "political" motivations (those that reflect outwardly upon the defenders' role in the criminal justice system) and "pragmatic" motivations (those that express what public defense work accomplishes for public defenders themselves). The opportunity for trial work (valued for its intellectual challenge, competition, inherent drama, and the possibility, however unlikely, of a thrilling victory) is among the most compellig of the pragmatic motivations that drive public defenders. Others include professional autonomy, task variety, regular social interaction, the voyeuristic attraction to crime and violence, the comeraderie of like-minded colleagues, and such lifestyle advantages as a completely criminal practice, the avoidance of the business end of private practice, a convenient work schedule, a fixed income and great benefits. In the end, the pragmatic attractions of public defense work provide powerful explanations for why public defenders do the job they do.

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Updated 05/20/2006