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How Much Attorney Time Is Sufficient for Effective Representation of Criminal Defendants?

Pursuant to legislation passed during the 83rd Texas Legislative Session, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) was instructed to “conduct and publish a study for the purpose of determining guidelines for establishing a maximum allowable caseload for a criminal defense attorney that…allows the attorney to give each indigent defendant the time and effort necessary to ensure effective representation.” The TIDC conducted a weighted caseload study that sought to answer two key questions:
     1.  How much time "is" currently being spent on the defense of court-appointed criminal cases?
     2. How much time "should" be spent to achieve reasonably effective representation?

The caseload study resulted in a lengthy report, recently made available here.

Three types of studies were used in order to answer these questions. First, a Timekeeping Study tracked the time spent on criminal cases by 196 private and public defense attorneys over a period of twelve weeks. Results were separated by seriousness of charges, with Class B and Class A misdemeanors disposed of in 4.7 and 7.6 hours, respectively. The range continues to the highest-level first degree felonies, with average attorney time of 22.3.

Next, a Time Sufficiency Study was conducted via survey of a private and public criminal defense practitioners, asking participants to review the amount of time spent on criminal cases (according to the Timekeeping Study). Respondents viewed the results of how much time attorneys were spending in these case, and making recommendations as to how much time “should” be spent in order to ensure effective representation.

Finally, a panel of 18 criminal defense practitioners were selected to take part in a Delphi process, integrating the opinions of the highly-experienced professionals into the final caseload guidelines. 

The guidelines suggest the maximum caseload an attorney can take on while still delivering competent and effective representation. The study recommends attorneys take on no more than the full-time equivalent caseload of:
  • 236 Class B Misdemeanors
  • 216 Class A Misdemeanors
  • 174 State Jail Felonies
  • 144 Third Degree Felonies
  • 105 Second Degree felonies
  • 77 First Degree Felonies
The TIDC, in creating this tool, aims to define the point at which caseloads become excessive and prevent the effective representation guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. It is hoped that this study will be used by appointing authorities and attorneys both, strengthening the effectiveness of representation, and preventing reversal of criminal convictions based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

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