Public vs. Private Attorneys


There are a lot of options for people who want to go into the legal profession, and figuring out what specialty or type of attorney you want to be can be challenging. One of the biggest questions facing a new attorney is whether they want to work in a public setting, or go into private practice. Figuring out which is right for you can get confusing and complicated.

Why we’re asking:

There’s a world of difference between working in the public sector and working in the private one, no matter what type of law you go into. Figuring out which is best suited to your strengths and goals as an attorney is essential, but also quite challenging. Our legal professionals come from all walks of legal life, which is why we’re turning to them to find out the advantages and disadvantages associated with working privately, or for the public.

Professionals, share your thoughts below:

How did you decide whether to work publicly or privately?

What are the pros of being a public attorney? How about the cons?

What are the advantages to working privately? Disadvantages?

Which sector do you work in? Have you worked in the other?

Should new attorneys start out in public or private firms?

There are many different facets to a legal career, and figuring out your niche can be a challenge. Understanding the differences between public and private work is just one more question answered for aspiring attorneys!

Please post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. I have worked in both the public and the private. When I started out of law school, the public sector had money and jobs. Then as money dried up I switched over to the private sector.

    As a public attorney, it was nice to know every two weeks I had a pay check. I had great health benefits, a good vacation package and consistent hours. However, there was not much ability to grow in my position. My pay stayed the same every year and had no ability to get a raise. There was no reason to put the extra effort into my job.

    As a private attorney, I have the ability to learn new fields, to take on different clients and grow my profits. Unfortunately, there are ebbs and flows to the private sector. Sometimes the money comes in and sometimes its a struggle. There are no health benefits, and vacation comes to infrequently.

    New attorneys should take any job out there. However, best case scenario is to work in the public sector for a couple of years, learn as much as possible and then take that with you to the private sector.

  2. Differences between public and private defenders? No doubt there is salary difference, with private attorneys earning more. However, public attorneys get trial experience more quickly. Moreover. public Attorneys have a better opportunity to learn and be mentored. Also there can be a big difference in the resources available to handling cases. In some cases private attorneys have the advantage (think clients with deep pockets) while in other cases public attorneys have the advantage (think prosecutors who have a distinct advantage given the pubic resources). Depending on the public office the public attorney may more access to important tools, such as investigators (police). However, private attorneys will usually have an unlimited time and perhaps resources to spend on any client.

    Public attorneys tend to have larger caseloads resulting in less time to spend on any individual client’s case. That is a very real disadvantage.

    It is important to understand that the pay difference between a public and private attorneys does not necessarily reflect on the quality of service a public attorney provides. In fact, many public attorneys are very committed to their jobs. Accordingly , they are willingly to accept a lower salary to provide an important service to the public.

    Lastly public Attorneys typically can’t refuse cases unless there is a conflict of interest. However, a private Attorney can refuse cases for almost any reason . Often private attorneys will refuse case because the client can not afford the fee or the case isn’t very strong.

  3. The biggest advantages of being a public attorney are the more regular hours (athough some public attorneys, such as prosecutors, still work the longer hours) and better health benefits. However, on the downside, the pay often is no where near what you can ultimately make in the private sector. The hours are rigid and you often have little flexibility to adjust your schedule as needed without cutting through a lot of red tape.
    Working as an attorney in the private sector typically pays a lot better and at least in many law firms, there is much more flexibility about when you come and go out of the office. However, the demands placed on you in order to make the higher pay are considerable. You remain connected to your smart phone 24/7 and the job follows you everywhere. Your free time is much more limited.

    I am currently in private practice with a mid-sized law firm. Previously, I have worked for both the federal government and local county government. There are trade offs to both government work and private sector. It all depends on what is a priority. I knew that the hours would be much more demanding and that would be held to a much higher standard once I left my government position and went to the private sector. However, the better pay, flexibility as to when I come and go, and more challenging work were worth it to me.

    I do believe that in some areas of law, starting out in the public sector is good training. For example, one area where this can hold true is in securities law. It can be very helpful in the private sector if you’ve previously worked inside the SEC.

  4. What are the pros of being a public attorney? How about the cons? You don’t have to worry about clients and you have a guaranteed paycheck. You don’t have to wonder where your next meal will come from. You don’t have as much freedom. You are required to take the cases that come across your desk. Clients feel like they don’t have a real lawyer. They sometimes feel like because the state pays you that you are not on their side.

    What are the advantages to working privately? Disadvantages?You get to set your own hours, be your own boss, you pretty much call the shots if you are working for yourself. You get to decide what type of cases you will take and you don’t have to take every case that comes in the door. The disadvantages are you have to do your own marketing and create the business that comes to you. The well sometimes goes dry you always have to reinvent yourself so that you stay at the top of the food chain.

    Which sector do you work in? Have you worked in the other? I have always worked in the private sector however I have held a contract for the public sector. No

    Should new attorneys start out in public or private firms? Depending on what you are looking at for a career path will determine the route you take. You will for sure get lots of experience if the public sector and the type of experience you will receive may take years in the private sector.

  5. Public attorneys are the ones which conduct verdicts based on the public issues and is elected by the governing body. Private attorney represent a private agency and act according to the best interests of their clients.

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