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Keeping Defender Workloads Manageable

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2001
36 pages
This report discusses approaches developed by public defender organizations, State legislatures, State courts, and other entities to managing the workloads of attorneys who represent indigent defendants.
The discussion notes that the client caseload does not accurately indicate the amount of time an attorney must spend to represent a client competently. Ethical guidelines set the ultimate standard for determining when an attorney carries an excessive caseload. However, numerical standards also have an important role in putting concerns about excessive caseloads in context. Caseload standards take different forms, including law, court rule, contractual terms, court opinion, and published guidelines from national organizations. Programs that have developed successful caseload or workload programs have sound management information systems, a statistical reporting procedure that funding sources have accepted, a sound managerial system, and other features. A successful motion to cut off appointments temporarily to an attorney or public defender office can produce ripple effects in the entire criminal justice system. No single approach can solve the persistent problem of excessive workloads. However, leaders of a local criminal defense bar can use several strategies. These include developing working relationships with others in the local criminal justice system; developing a case definition to use uniformly; developing a user-friendly system for recording case statistics and reducing reports; and documenting the excessive caseloads and inadequate staff and resources. Additional recommendations, tables, list of organizations from which to obtain more information, and reference notes