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Notes from the Field: Challenges of Indigent Criminal Defense

New York City Law Review, Vol. 12, p. 203, 2008

44 Pages Posted: 3 May 2011  

Steven Zeidman

CUNY School of Law

Date Written: 2008


In the arena of legal scholarship, the topic of indigent criminal defense is often subsumed under broader considerations of criminal law, the courts, institutional structures, and the reigning paradigm of the criminal justice system. However, examination of the field seldom begins from the perspective of the indigent criminal defense attorney and, by extension, the accused. The reflections of these practitioners are not only germane, but also essential to bridging the divide between the rarified theory of indigent criminal defense and its application.

In this volume, four leading practitioners discuss the challenges in criminal defense -- Susan Tipograph, Mercedes Cano, and Preeti Lala are all criminal defense attorneys, and Kathy Boudin, who was incarcerated for twenty-two years, is a noted advocate for the incarcerated and their children. This Essay aims to use the insights of the practitioners, and the realities they have described, to contribute to the critical discussion in future debates about indigent criminal defense. The practitioners all comment on the particular difficulties they face in their practice, the trend of mass incarceration in the United States, recidivism, the connection between social movements and criminal defense, and alternative client-focused approaches to indigent public defense. Their reflections, insights, and perspectives capture the frustrations, realities and joys of indigent defense work.

Keywords: Criminal defense, indigent legal services, criminal law, client-incorporating approaches

Suggested Citation

Zeidman, Steven, Notes from the Field: Challenges of Indigent Criminal Defense (2008). New York City Law Review, Vol. 12, p. 203, 2008. Available at SSRN:

Steven Zeidman (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY
United States

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