Attorney Competence in an Age of Plea Bargaining and Econometrics

18 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2013 Last revised: 6 Jan 2015

Date Written: August 13, 2013


This Essay explores the concept of attorney competence in a criminal justice system dominated by plea bargaining. It focuses, in particular, on the results of a widely-reported empirical study of Philadelphia murder cases that found “vast” differences in legal outcomes based on the type of defense attorney assigned to the case. The first part of the Essay explores the implications of these empirical findings, which appear to stem from a counter-intuitive form of professional competence, persistence in convincing one’s client to plead guilty. The findings are particularly intriguing in light of the Supreme Court’s recent expansion of ineffective assistance of counsel claims into America’s untidy plea bargaining regime. The second part of the Essay highlights the extraordinary empirical methods employed to unearth the findings described in Part I. As empiricists apply increasingly sophisticated tools to the extraordinarily complex criminal justice system, gaining insight into the advantages and shortcomings of various methodological approaches can be just as important for those interested in criminal justice as any particular study’s substantive contributions.

Keywords: plea bargain, indigent defense, public defender, Lafler, Frye, ineffective assistance of counsel, statistics, econometrics

Suggested Citation

Bellin, Jeffrey, Attorney Competence in an Age of Plea Bargaining and Econometrics (August 13, 2013). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol.12, p.153, 2014, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-260, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey Bellin (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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