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Public Defender Interview Questions: The Real Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer

published September 21, 2020

By Author - LawCrossing

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If you’re interested in becoming a public defender, there are public defender interview questions you should be prepared to answer. Whether you’re preparing for an interview as a federal public defender or a public defender at the state or county level, these interviews are far different than preparing for a law firm interview. In this article, we will review the most common public defender interview questions you are most likely to be asked.
Public Defender Interview Questions: The Real Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer

Personal Questions for Public Defender Job Interviews
  • Tell me a little bit about yourself. The key to answering this open ended question is to keep it professional while also ensuring that you do keep some passion in it because you will be zealously advocating for individuals who are being prosecuted by the state or federal government.
  • How would others describe you if they were asked to do so? This is a bit of a loaded question because you don’t want to come off as seeming to be someone with a hero complex or as someone who is apparently the loser of your group of friends. This is about thinking on your feet. Focus on the positive while also showcasing some team effort. Do not be arrogant.
  • How do you describe yourself? Despite knowing yourself for your entire life, it can be hard to describe yourself to your potential employer, especially when you really want the job. They are looking to see if you’ll fit in to the public defender’s office as well as looking to see if you are self-aware. Match your positive aspects to your legal training as well as to your qualifications as needed for the role as a public defender.
  • Why are you interested in working as a public defender for (city / county / federal level)? The key here is to include your personal story and also be able to explain why you believe that public defenders are, indeed, a necessity to the system.
  • What do you like to do in your spare time? While it can be tempting to answer this to appear that you are a 24/7 workaholic fully devoted to your job (and many public defenders are), the goal is to see if you’re well-rounded. It is perfectly acceptable to mention volunteer activities that may be associated with your interests in working as a public defender as well as your interests that aren’t related to this area of law.
  • Why did you choose law? The purpose of this question is to determine if you’re interested and motivated enough to defend those who are being prosecuted by the state.
  • What would make you a good public defender? Again, this goes back to highlighting your motivation and passion to zealously advocating for those being prosecuted by the state or federal government.
  • Tell me about the biggest mistake you’ve made. This is both a personal interview question as well as a behavioral interview question. Saying something like how you can’t think of a big mistake is a not the right answer. They’ll think you have something to hide or have zero self-awareness. Use the STAR method: situation, task, approach, and result to answer this question and pick a good failure story that does not raise red flags about your ethics. Make sure it shows your ability to learn from your mistakes.
  • Do you work well under pressure? Public defenders often carry extreme caseloads. The candidate chosen will be someone who is able to demonstrate that they are able to work well under extreme pressure as well as stress.
  • How do you feel about representing individuals accused of physically or sexually abusing children? Being asked how you may feel about representing alleged drug dealers, murderers, robbers, or other crimes is one thing. It is totally different to be asked how you feel about the possibility of representing someone who is accused of harming a child in some way. The goal of becoming a public defender is to become a voice for those accused of committing a crime, and not necessarily to pick and choose which crimes.
  • Is there any specific crime you’d struggle to defend? This is similar to the previous question. The goal of a public defender is to be a voice for individuals who are accused of committing a crime. Public defenders to not get to choose which cases they must work.

Resume and Transcript Questions
  • What led you to choose your undergraduate degree? The answer to this question helps the interview to understand if you would be a good fit for the public defender’s office. Focus not just on your major, but the skills and experiences you gained from your undergraduate experience and how those helped shape you and how they will make you into an effective public defender.
  • Tell me what you did between college and law school. If you did not go directly to law school and have a gap on your resume, be prepared to explain what you did to fill your time.
  • Tell me about some of your responsibilities in your prior work experience. The key to this question is to relate it to the responsibilities of the public defender’s office.

Knowledge of the Public Defender’s Office
  • Why are you interested in working for our office? If you have a personal reason that makes you passionate about justice, it’s okay to share it. Just make sure that you’re ready to explain why you’re interested in pursuing work with the public defender’s office outside of saying, “Because I need a job and went to law school.”
  • Which part of defense work are you most interested in? While you may not get your choice in which cases you’ll be defending, a discussion of your interests can still be practical.
  • What qualifications / experience do you have that will make you succeed as a public defender? Tailor your answer based on your law school experience, summer associate experience, volunteer experience, and any previous work experience you have.
  • Why do you want to work here? This is your opportunity to show off what you know about the public defender agency that you’re interviewing with. Regardless of whether the public defender’s office is at the county, state, or federal level, you must show that you are knowledgeable about the office.

Commitment to Public Work
  • What other areas of practice are you interested in aside from public defense? Public defender offices are well-aware that most attorneys, especially those right out of law school, will not stay with their office forever. While that’s certainly okay, the interview will be used to gauge whether they want to devote their resources to training you.
  • Tell me about your experience in working with public interest organizations. Public interest organizations do not operate in the same manner as corporations. They often have limited resources, including limited money. Experience isn’t always necessary, but if you do have it, that’s great.
  • Where do you see yourself in five to ten years? Again, the public defender’s office has limited resources. While the are fully aware that most of their new hires won’t spend their entire careers working within their ranks, they do want to make wise use of their resources. This question is used to gauge whether you are a wise investment of those resources.

Hypothetical Public Defender Interview Questions

Hypothetical public defender interview questions may be posed to you to assess your judgment and reasoning. The fact patterns won’t have clear legal answers, but you will be asked to make a decision based on the facts given. Only go off of the information that you are given.