Public Defenders

Contract public defenders in this state make about $5 per hour after overhead, new study says

  • Print.

piggy bank and calculator

Image from

Contract public defenders in Indiana who earn median pay make only about $5.16 per hour after covering overhead expenses, according to a June study by the Indiana Public Defender Commission.

The study concluded that contract public defenders should receive overhead compensation or an increase in general pay, report the Indiana Lawyer and

The study found that, in 2018, the median pay for full-time contract public defenders was $64,777, and the median overhead for a single, full-time lawyer was $54,455. That left only $10,322 in annual compensation, which translates to about $5.16 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.

The findings showed that lawyers have to take more private cases to subsidize the work of representing criminal defendants, according to Derrick Mason, a senior staff attorney at the commission who spoke with the Indiana Lawyer.

“Insufficient compensation, which encourages taking ever-increasing public and private caseloads, undermines Indiana’s entire criminal justice system,” Mason told the publication in an email.

Under commission standards, contract public defenders are supposed to receive the same pay as an equivalent prosecutor. But the standards don’t distinguish between full-salaried public defenders working in an office and contract or part-time public defenders who receive nothing for overhead, according to the study.

The highest overhead cost was for support staff. Fourteen percent of the part-time and contract public defenders reported no support staff at all, “which creates a serious concern,” the study said. Forty-four percent reported support staff hours that were lower than the standard for adequate staffing.

The survey was based on survey responses from 108 attorneys, some of whom were responding for a multi-attorney office. As a result, the survey represented costs associated with overhead for 204 lawyers. Fifty Indiana counties were represented in the sample.

The study focused on public defenders who work in counties that receive a partial reimbursement for public defense expenses by following commission standards for fair pay. The study title is Indiana Public Defense Overhead Costs.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.