For Criminal Lawyers: The Attractions of the Public Defence Service Legal Career

There was a time, not long ago, when the options for developing a career in criminal law were strictly limited and constrained by a variety of factors, not the least of them being opportunity.

That is no longer the case. The largest criminal law practice in New Zealand is an organisation that provides a combination of collegiality and support, as well as career progression and variety that few legal careers can equal.

It does require a degree of ‘public’ commitment or, as Wellington Public Defender Kevin Preston calls it – “a calling”

For Criminal Lawyers: The Attractions of the Public Defence Service Legal CareerSpeaking to LawTalk, Mr Preston acknowledged that practising criminal law was not for everyone, but it was deeply satisfying.

“That is one thing about being a criminal lawyer, when you do a good job for your client, I personally find it very rewarding and that gives me the incentive and the enthusiasm to crack on into the next case.”

The Public Defence Service (PDS) was established almost 10 years ago based on an internationally recognised mixed public and private model of legal services provision. It started as a pilot in Manukau and Auckland, and following its success was expanded nationally with a focus on providing high quality and efficient legal aid services across the country.

It has expanded significantly so that it is now operating from 10 offices nationally, handling around 16,000 cases a year and is now the largest criminal law practice in New Zealand.

It handles around one third of all the criminal cases coming before the courts providing highly professional defence services across multiple courts and jurisdictions.

Variety and flexibility

The PDS lawyers represent clients in criminal categories 1-4; this includes the most serious offending including challenging and high profile cases as well as providing duty lawyer services.

The PDS also handles cases in the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, as well as providing services in the family violence courts and other specialist criminal courts.

If variety is the spice of life, then variety in the PDS is greater still with an extraordinary range of legal work available to the lawyers. For professionals who also want to make a difference, it is a unique opportunity to do so, working from a professional and supportive environment.

The PDS have a specialised in-house criminal law training programme as well as a focussed junior lawyer certification programme.

However more senior positions are held by senior lawyers who find the opportunity to work in a more structured and certain environment particularly fruitful for their careers and lifestyle.

The other great attraction of these roles is, of course, that they are salaried with holiday and sick leave entitlements. This ensures that PDS lawyers can focus on doing what they do best, as opposed to having to spend valuable time and energy dealing with the numerous distractions and responsibilities inherent in running a private practice.

The PDS aim to make their lawyers’ professional lives as simple as possible with no more practicing fees, insurance or other overheads but with plenty of opportunities for personal and professional development in a supportive and collegial environment.  

Summer intern and law graduate programmes

The summer intern and law graduate programmes are part of the PDS “grow our own” strategy to train and develop lawyers to become practicing criminal defence lawyers as part of the PDS’ broader contribution to the criminal bar.

Summer interns and law graduates work on legal aid cases by undertaking research, drafting submissions and affidavits, and observing other lawyers interviewing clients and at court.


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