Holistic defense, a client-centered model that relies on team-based operations, has emerged in recent years as an alternative to traditional public defense practices. There is some evidence that holistic defense improves client outcomes, yet no research to date has evaluated client perspectives of holistic defense among adult clients. In this study, we hypothesize a relationship between holistic defense and increased client trust, perceptions of procedural justice, and legal and extra-legal outcomes.
We examine public defense from the client perspective through in-depth interviews (N = 36) coded deductively, comparing the experiences of clients of holistic defense (n = 20) with those of traditional public defense (n = 16). We find that distrust and cynicism are pervasive in both client samples, but the holistic defense model provides tangible ways to build trust with clients, bolster perceptions of procedural justice, enhance legal and extra-legal client outcomes, and increase client satisfaction. Prior research has demonstrated the importance of procedural justice in terms of client satisfaction, compliance with court decisions, and acceptance of legal authority. However, the public tends to distrust court actors, which erodes procedural justice. We demonstrate that, in addition to both legal and extra-legal client benefits, holistic defense has the capacity to build client trust and bolster perceptions of procedural justice. (Publisher abstract provided)