Skip to content

Charles J. Ogletree, Beyond Justifications: Seeking Motivations to Sustain Public Defenders, 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1239 (1993).

Abstract: Most scholarship on the professional role of the criminal defense attorney focuses on a search for the appropriate philosophical or moral justifications for the attorney's zealous advocacy. In this Article, Professor Ogletree argues that this focus is misplaced. Nearly all lawyers and legal scholars agree that the criminal defense lawyer's role is justified and that public defenders are necessary to the constitutional and moral legitimacy of the criminal justice system. However, because little attention has been paid to developing techniques that will motivate people to become and remain public defenders, many public defenders "burn out." The result is that conduct most lawyers believe is both justified and necessary fails to occur. Professor Ogletree argues that legal scholars should move beyond abstract justifications of criminal defense work and should instead explore and develop motivations for lawyers to represent the indigent. Drawing on his personal experiences as a public defender, he identifies two factors - empathy and heroism - that motivated him to continue in the face of a tragedy that shook his faith in the system. Professor Ogletree argues that public defender organizations can promote these values by drawing on the example of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, which promotes an ethos within the office that sustains public defenders' commitment to clients. In addition, he argues that law schools should employ clinical teaching techniques that foster these motivations.