Ethics Forum: Questions and Answers on Professional Liability

I am a lawyer employed by the Public Defender’s Office in one of the counties in Pennsylvania. My office is extremely overworked. Many lawyers have left and have not been replaced. The workload is impossible. What are my duties and responsibilities?

The question is interesting and topical. This column in the past has discussed issues with court appointed offices and public advocates and the ethics of most of the policies that have been accepted in Pennsylvania. For example, there is no doubt that court appointed attorneys who only receive a lump sum for an unlimited number of cases are in total conflict of interest with their court appointed clients. A package of $ 3,000 or $ 3,200 per month, which does not include overhead costs, and where there is no cap on the number of cases the lawyer handles is simply unethical . This puts the lawyer in total conflict with a client. A lawyer cannot be tried for all of these cases. It is in the lawyer’s best interest to make things right, but it may not be in the client’s best interest. Public defender’s offices face many of the same problems. It’s just not as obvious as the block fee conflict with sometimes 100 or more cases going to court-appointed attorneys in the counties.

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