We are struggling at Open Legal Services to get the word out about our criminal defense services. It's frustrating because that is what I want to do. I do not enjoy family law and I know that a lot of people cannot afford private criminal attorneys so I want to help. Since we charge based on income most of my criminal cases are usually only a few hundred dollars.
So how to get the word out?
In Salt Lake County, the public defender association is large and very good at what they do. But when a defendant doesn't qualify, the courts really can't refer them to specific private attorneys, and the defendant ends up finding someone they cannot afford on Google.
We consider ourselves the other public defenders. Since as we are a nonprofit the courts are in fact allowed to refer to us. It has become about educating judges, which is tricky. Many have enthusiastically begun referring family law litigants to us, but not criminal.
We had lunch with a friend the other day whose partner is on the city council (or used to be, I'm not sure since I am a bad citizen who doesn't follow local politics much). He suggested we get the municipal courts to refer by getting mayors and city councils to approve us officially. He is going to help us get some meetings.
We are on our way, but it's frustrating. I was sitting in court just the other day when a judge was telling a defendant his income was too high to qualify for a public defender. Ethical rules prohibited me from approaching him. It was so frustrating and heartbreaking.
How can we change the thinking from public defender and pricey private attorney being the only options (other than defending yourself)?
We have tried to help educate defendants on their options, by creating www.saltlakelegaldefenders.org and doing some radio spots, but we need more.