How Much Do Public Defenders Make In 2023?

A humanitarian attitude, a desire to learn about the legal and judicial systems, a love of public speaking, and the ability to respond graciously under challenging situations are prevalent attributes and interests among those who choose a career as a public defender.

To become a public defender, you need years of study, devotion, and hard work.

The outcome may be a lucrative and exciting profession for those who are enthusiastic about the law and assisting others.

Defendants could get a public defender at the county or local level, state, or federal level. This depends on the sort of offense they are in the court for.

With these requirements, you might ask how much do public defenders make and which state pays them the most? You are in the right place for the answer.

According to Zippia, California, Oregon, and Alaska are the three highest-paying states for making your career as a public defender.

Keep reading to find out the hourly and yearly salaries for a public defender.


GuideHow Much Do Public Defenders Make?
Average Salary$65,000 annually
Highest Salary$95,000 annually

Who Are Public Defenders?

Who Are Public Defenders

A public defender is a qualified attorney who defends people accused of crimes on behalf of a municipal, state, or federal government body.

Clients who cannot afford to engage a private attorney get representation by public defenders, who get their salary by the agency where they work rather than by their clients.

Because they work for the government, public defenders have little to no say in who they represent, resulting in a wide range of cases.

Those accused of crimes who do not have access to other legal assistance get representation by public defenders.

Juveniles, people without the financial means to provide their own legal representation, and those who have forfeited their legal right to pick their own attorney are all examples of this.


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What Do Public Defenders Do?

How Much Do Public Defenders Make?

Indeed’s estimations show that the national average public defender compensation is around $65,000 annually in its most recent article available to all on their website.

The remuneration ranges vastly from entry-level positions to senior positions.

A public defender in their early career with up to four years of experience may expect to make less than the average salary of a public defender but could expect something similar to the average salary once they come mid-career with their experience and the place they work at.

1. How Much Do Public Defenders Make in an Hour?

Public Defenders make a minimum of $31.53 an hour and a maximum of $147.15 an hour.

2. How Much Do Public Defenders Make in a Month?

Public Defenders make a minimum of $5,466 a month and a maximum of $25,507 a month.

3. How Much Do Public Defenders Make in a Year?

Public Defenders make a minimum of $65,589 a year and a maximum of $306,082 a year.


Highest Salary Of Public Defenders In 2023

Is Being A Public Defender Good Or Bad

When you are a public defender, your experience might not play a significant role as it would in other professions because you defend people who can not afford to pay, so the government pays your money, and it is not too high in many cases.

That is why public defenders’ highest salary is generally close to the average salary.

According to some job boards, the highest salary of public defenders that about %10 of the people in the profession gets is around $95,000 annually—close to six figures but not too high from the average salary of public defenders.

However, if you are really an experienced public defender and have a high winning rate, you might still get a somewhat higher salary than you see here.

Is Being A Public Defender Good Or Bad?

Being a public defender is not generally perceived as a good profession due to the nature of the job.

When you are working as a public defender, you need to defend people who are primarily guilty or those who do not know anything about the justice system, which makes your job more complicated if your client does not care about the result of the case.

Sometimes, you might need to defend guilty people, which, to many, is the hardest thing.

However, in general, the pay is not bad, so that might be something worth it.

If you like to handle these kinds of issues and tackle them, being a public defender is good for you. But generally, people do not really want to be a public defender.

Pros and Cons of Being A Public Defender


  • Handsome money
  • Job satisfaction
  • Get to support legal system
  • Job security


  • Stressful
  • Long work reputation
  • May spoil reputation


How To Become A Public Defender?

How To Become A Public Defender

Here’s how you can become a Public Defender:

  • Enrolling at a university and finishing a bachelor’s degree program, ideally in law, criminal justice, or government, is the first step toward becoming a public defender. However, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, no single topic of undergraduate study is more common among working public defenders.
  •  The next step is to take the LSAT. The LSAT, also known as Law School Admissions Test, is a test that you must pass in order to get admitted to law school after finishing your undergraduate education. The LSAT assesses your ability to think critically, read critically, reason, and analyze data. Students generally take the LSAT during their junior year of college.
  •  Now you will need to finish your law school which lasts for three years.
  •  During your second or third year at law school, you should now take up a public defender internship.
  •  Before you start practicing law, you will need to clear your state bar exam. And once you clear this, you can now start working as a public defender.

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How Many Hours Does Public Defender Work?

Despite being employed by the government to work full-time, Public Defenders end up working for more than 40 hours a week. They give a lot of time to their clients and to make sure they win the case.

What is the Starting Pay of Public Defender?

The starting pay of a Public Defender is $31.53 an hour or $5,466 a month. With more experience in this field, you can earn as much as $25,507 a month and sometimes even more.

Public Defender Training Programs

Generally, there is no training program for public defenders as you already get your education and must do the internship during your studies.

However, there are some free courses that institutions like NACDL, a government-accredited institution, give for those who want to be public defenders.

Formally, this does not give you an advantage, but it will teach you how to do your job better.


To conclude, being a public defender takes a lot of effort. It is not only about education and getting good results it is also about handling problematic clients most of the time because if you are defending someone, chances are they are either broke and have no idea how things work, or they are criminal and do not want to pay for a lawyer.

You have to be open to everything, but the salary is good enough for many people and states.

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How much do public defenders make when they are interns?

When you start as a public defender, you start as an intern, and interns get the lowest salary possible in many cases.

That salary is less than the entry-level position’s salary.

How much do public defenders make if they have a decade of experience?

They, most of the time, get the highest salary possible. Generally, they are in the top %10 percent with at least a decade of experience.

How much do public defenders make in the most expensive states?

Inexpensive states like New York, Los Angeles, and so on, salaries are exponentially higher than the general consensus, so you might even start with a higher salary and continue working above the average for many years.

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