National Public Defense Workload Study

Nicholas M. Pace et al., Rand Corp. (2023).

This report showcases the results of collaborative research on public defense workloads from the RAND Corporation, the National Center for State Courts, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, and the Law Office of Lawyer Hanlon. This research is intended to update the 1973 caseload limits set by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (known as the NAC Standards). Relying on the Delphi method with an expert panel of 33 practitioners and other quantitative and qualitative empirical data, the researchers developed national workload standards for effective and ethical representation of adults in various criminal case types by considering case weight metrics.

As an example, this study found that a “Felony-Low” case type requires 35 hours per case, which equates to 59 cases a year, compared to the annual case cap of 150 felony cases based on the NAC Standards. This discrepancy illustrates that a criminal defense attorney under the NAC Standards would have a felony caseload that is 2.5 times over what is reasonably required for ethical and effective representation. Ultimately, the study found excessive caseloads were pervasive in public defense offices across the country, forcing attorneys to triage their cases and denying clients equal and accurate justice. Although these new workload standards were based on adult criminal cases, this data-driven set of standards may provide a helpful framework for youth defense providers across the country in evaluating their workloads and creating similar workload standards specific to youth defense cases.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Policy Tool, Resource Library
Tags: Standards, Youth Defense Systems