Working as a Public Defender

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a public defender. For example, did you know that they make an average of $28.97 an hour? That's $60,259 a year!

Between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 6% and produce 50,100 job opportunities across the U.S.

What Does a Public Defender Do

There are certain skills that many public defenders have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed analytical skills, interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills.

When it comes to the most important skills required to be a public defender, we found that a lot of resumes listed 14.4% of public defenders included mental health, while 14.3% of resumes included criminal cases, and 12.5% of resumes included legal advice. Hard skills like these are helpful to have when it comes to performing essential job responsibilities.

When it comes to searching for a job, many search for a key term or phrase. Instead, it might be more helpful to search by industry, as you might be missing jobs that you never thought about in industries that you didn't even think offered positions related to the public defender job title. But what industry to start with? Most public defenders actually find jobs in the health care and government industries.

How To Become a Public Defender

If you're interested in becoming a public defender, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We've determined that 16.1% of public defenders have a bachelor's degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 9.3% of public defenders have master's degrees. Even though most public defenders have a college degree, it's possible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a public defender. When we researched the most common majors for a public defender, we found that they most commonly earn doctoral degree degrees or bachelor's degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on public defender resumes include master's degree degrees or associate degree degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a public defender. In fact, many public defender jobs require experience in a role such as law clerk. Meanwhile, many public defenders also have previous career experience in roles such as legal extern or attorney.

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Average Salary$60,259
Job Growth Rate6%

Public Defender Career Paths

Top Careers Before Public Defender

Law Clerk
19.9 %

Top Careers After Public Defender

Attorney
24.3 %

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Public Defender

Public Defenders in America make an average salary of $60,259 per year or $29 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $94,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $38,000 per year.
Average Salary
$60,259

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
Santa Rosa, CA
Salary Range74k - 151k$106k$105,797
Las Vegas, NV
Salary Range56k - 116k$81k$81,143
Seattle, WA
Salary Range56k - 110k$79k$79,170
Davenport, IA
Salary Range45k - 84k$62k$61,608
Missoula, MT
Salary Range39k - 71k$54k$53,637
Binghamton, NY
Salary Range27k - 94k$51k$51,303
$23k
$151k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Public Defender Intake Specialist I
Public Defender Intake Specialist I
Maryland Government Jobs
Maryland Government Jobs
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$29,42201/29/2021
$29,422
Principal Public Defender (Pd_35009)
Principal Public Defender (Pd_35009)
Lake County Il
Lake County Il
01/27/2021
01/27/2021
$87,43401/27/2021
$87,434
Principal Public Defender
Principal Public Defender
Lake County Health Dept
Lake County Health Dept
01/27/2021
01/27/2021
$87,43401/27/2021
$87,434
Principal Public Defender
Principal Public Defender
Lake County, Illinois
Lake County, Illinois
01/27/2021
01/27/2021
$87,43401/27/2021
$87,434
Contract Public Defender
Contract Public Defender
Clark County Government
Clark County Government
01/14/2021
01/14/2021
$25,00001/14/2021
$25,000
See More Recent Salaries

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Public Defender Demographics

Gender

female

53.0 %

male

43.7 %

unknown

3.3 %

Ethnicity

White

80.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

6.9 %

Asian

5.4 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

55.0 %

French

10.0 %

German

6.7 %
See More Demographics

Public Defender Education

Majors

Law
65.1 %

Degrees

Doctorate

64.6 %

Bachelors

16.1 %

Masters

9.3 %

Top Colleges for Public Defenders

1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

2. University of Chicago

Chicago, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$58,230
Enrollment
6,600

3. University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,610
Enrollment
40,329

4. Northeastern University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,522
Enrollment
13,760

5. Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL • Public

In-State Tuition
$5,656
Enrollment
32,072

6. University of Richmond

University of Richmond, VA • Private

In-State Tuition
$52,610
Enrollment
3,215

7. University of California - Davis

Davis, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,402
Enrollment
30,698

8. University of Washington

Seattle, WA • Public

In-State Tuition
$11,207
Enrollment
30,905

9. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238

10. University of Georgia

Athens, GA • Public

In-State Tuition
$11,830
Enrollment
29,474
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Public Defender

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 14.4% of public defenders listed mental health on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and interpersonal skills are important as well.

  • Mental Health, 14.4%
  • Criminal Cases, 14.3%
  • Legal Advice, 12.5%
  • Law Enforcement, 8.6%
  • Court Proceedings, 6.8%
  • Other Skills, 43.4%
  • See All Public Defender Skills

Best States For a Public Defender

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a public defender. The best states for people in this position are California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Washington. Public defenders make the most in California with an average salary of $97,129. Whereas in Hawaii and Nevada, they would average $91,352 and $81,793, respectively. While public defenders would only make an average of $78,202 in Washington, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. California

Total Public Defender Jobs:
54
Highest 10% Earn:
$181,000
Location Quotient:
1.54
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Nevada

Total Public Defender Jobs:
2
Highest 10% Earn:
$153,000
Location Quotient:
1.04
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Oregon

Total Public Defender Jobs:
4
Highest 10% Earn:
$136,000
Location Quotient:
1.15
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Public Defender Employers

1. Public Defender Services
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$87,931
Public Defenders Hired: 
31+
2. State of Florida
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$39,406
Public Defenders Hired: 
13+
3. San Bernardino County Fire
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$68,223
Public Defenders Hired: 
11+
4. State of Maryland
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$29,551
Public Defenders Hired: 
10+
5. Kern County
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$25,970
Public Defenders Hired: 
9+
6. Shasta County
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$26,131
Public Defenders Hired: 
8+
Updated October 2, 2020