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Lawyers: Why You Should Consider Public Defender Jobs

Many law students dismiss public defender jobs because of the low pay, long hours and difficult clients. Even if you feel this way, watch our interview with Travis Williams, as you’ll come away inspired. Travis is one of the public defenders featured in the HBO documentary Gideon’s Army. His passion for his public defender career is evident on camera.

Instead of including our usual video interview sneak peek here (it’s on YouTube under being a public defender), we’re sharing with you a short video produced for the New York Times by Gideon’s filmmaker Dawn Porter (featuring music by my old friend and first music management client, Paul Brill). Travis doesn’t deny that his job is hard, but he is a “True Believer in Justice.” If you’re wondering what to do with a law degree, check out this interview.
TRUE BELIEVERS IN JUSTICE (from the New York Times)
(Full interview with Travis is below)


Today’s Guest

Public Defender Travis WilliamsPublic Defender Travis Williams
Title: Senior Assistant Public Defender, Hall County, Georgia
City: Gainesville, GA
Law School: University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, GA
College: Florida A&M in Tallahassee, FL
Other: Travis is featured in the award-winning documentary Gideon’s Army on HBO.
Videos: Public Defender Jobs & Travis’ Career Advice

Public Defender Career

In the “True Believer in Justice” video above, you see Travis getting a tattoo of his client’s name after losing a case. This is just one part of his public defender career that we talk about in the full interview. We also talk about defending “bad people,” how to find public defender jobs, and dealing with low pay and law school loans.


Join JD Careers Out There for access to this video plus more day-in-the-life career path interview videos & transcripts.


This is a preview of the video transcript on being a public defender.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full version of this transcript plus the career guidance video library & transcripts.

Luber: Hey everyone, today on JD Careers Out There we’re exploring public defender jobs – and what it’s like to have a public defender career. This is interesting stuff – so stick around! [theme song]

Alright, as you may already know, at JDCOT we explore career paths both in and out of law to help you find a career that fits you and help you succeed using your law degree.

I’m your host Marc Luber, the founder of JDCOT. I’ve always used my law degree to work in alternative careers for lawyers – first in the music industry and then as a legal recruiter. I’ve been helping lawyers with their careers since 2003 and I’m excited for the opportunity to help you.

Today’s guest is Travis Williams – he’s a public defender in Gainesville, GA who is SO committed his work that if he loses a case, he gets his client’s name tattooed on his back!

Travis is featured in the powerful documentary film “Gideon’s Army”, which airs on HBO. If you haven’t already seen the film, I highly recommend it – and I also suggest watching the video clip above that’s featuring Travis.

Today, we’re exploring the path of being a Public Defender, so let’s meet Travis and get started. Travis, welcome to JDCOT!

Travis: Thanks for having me.

Luber: Thank you for being here. I’m really glad you’re here, Travis.

I saw you on the Daily Show when they were profiling “Gideon’s Army” and they showed a scene of your working the courtroom and I was so impressed with your performance, I really wanted you to come on the show for the benefit of our audience so they could all learn about being a public defender.

So I’m really glad you’re here – and amongst other things, I’m going to ask you to tell us about a typical day, who makes the right fit for this kind of path as far as skill sets and personality types, how to break in and how to succeed at this.

But let’s start with the basics first. Tell us this, what does a public defender do?

Travis: A public defender is a criminal defense attorney that represents people that are charged with criminal offenses of all kinds from misdemeanors to death penalty work.

And what separates a public defender from just a run-of-the-mill criminal defense attorney is that public defenders, we represent people that can’t afford to hire their own counsel. The United States Constitution guarantees it; it was solidified in many rulings and we represent that promise of effective representation for somebody who can’t afford to hire their own counsel.

Luber: Now, is there a typical fact pattern or scenario that you tend to deal with time and again? Let’s get a feel for what you see in the course of your job.

Travis: I handle a lot of level 1 felonies, whether it be rape, child molestation, murder, and that’s a sizeable chunk of my caseload but I also have possession of a drug related object all the way down to reckless conduct by an HIV person. So you run into any wide range but it’s usually some attorneys that are designated to handle some of the more serious cases.

Luber: Interesting. So I’ve got to ask you this question, because we asked this of private criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson, who’s also a CNN Legal Commentator. And we asked him the same kind of question which is, when you’re defending people who did something like rape, how do you get through that when there’s people in the room who have been hurt by this person, there’s family members who are crying and devastated and their lives have been affected and you’re taking the side…you’re helping the person who’s the bad person, right?

So how is it that you get through that emotionally and handle that vibe in the room when you have these people looking at you, probably hating you?

Travis: Well, you know, that’s interesting because I’m sure there’s people that see me represent somebody charged with child molestation and they might make the illogical jump that I’m pro-child molestation and I’m absolutely not.

I’m not pro rape, I’m not pro child molestation; I’m pro Constitution. And so my job is to defend this person’s constitutional rights come hell or high water and everything in-between.

Sometimes it does get uncomfortable when you’re in a room full of people and the first thing they hear is what your guy is charged with and they automatically have a negative opinion about you or about them. And sometimes it gets uncomfortable – but generally, you just pray that people keep an open mind and do your best to fight for your client.

But more than anything, I recognize that my allegiance, although it is to this client, to the bounds of the ethical rules, it really is above, first and foremost to the Constitution.

So regardless of what this person is charged with, I got to do what I can to preserve this idea of liberty and justice and these rights that we talk about but sometimes take for granted.

Luber: Alright! This is great – lots more to dig into. In the full version of this interview, Travis and I will cover lots more about what it’s like to be a public defender, how YOU can break in and how YOU can succeed.

You’ll want to join the JDCOT membership for access to the full, in-depth career interviews & transcripts that will help you find and land a career that fits you. Check out what people are saying about JDCOT by clicking here.

Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and I’ll see ya soon.

[theme song]

©2016 Careers Out There

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Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

it's free!
You’ll also get periodic updates, reminders & access to career guidance programs sent to your inbox. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe via a click at any time.