Is Your Lawyer a Lemon? Incentives and Selection in the Public Provision of Criminal Defense

49 Pages Posted: 7 May 2018 Last revised: 29 Aug 2022

See all articles by Amanda Agan

Amanda Agan

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics

Matthew Freedman

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics

Emily Owens

University of California, Irvine

Date Written: May 2018

Abstract

Governments in the U.S. must offer free legal services to low-income people accused of crimes. These services are frequently provided by assigned counsel, who handle cases for indigent defendants on a contract basis. Court-assigned attorneys generally garner worse case outcomes than privately retained attorneys. Using detailed court records from one large jurisdiction in Texas, we find that the disparities in outcomes are primarily attributable to case characteristics and within-attorney differences across cases in which they are assigned versus retained. The selection of low-quality lawyers into assigned counsel and endogenous matching in the private market contribute less to the disparities.

Suggested Citation

Agan, Amanda and Freedman, Matthew and Owens, Emily, Is Your Lawyer a Lemon? Incentives and Selection in the Public Provision of Criminal Defense (May 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24579, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3174511

Amanda Agan (Contact Author)

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

Matthew Freedman

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics ( email )

3151 Social Science Plaza
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

Emily Owens

University of California, Irvine

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