Defender Services Program

The Defender Services Program, established pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, upholds the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel in the federal courts by providing representation for persons unable to afford counsel in federal criminal proceedings.

The Defender Services Program provides high-quality representation consistent with the best practices of the legal profession through a hybrid system of 82 federal defender organizations (FDOs) and more than 10,000 private panel attorneys. Together, federal defenders and CJA panel attorneys represent the vast majority of persons prosecuted for federal criminal offenses. There are two types of FDOs: (1) federal public defender organizations (FPDOs), which consist of federal employees who are part of the judiciary, and (2) community defender organizations (CDOs), which are private, state-chartered, non-profit corporations funded by annual federal grants from the judiciary.

Respected as the “gold standard” in public defense, the Defender Services Program  provides representation for the full range of federal criminal offenses.  The program’s reputation is exemplified by a federal judge’s observation that “[F]ederal public defenders... typically provide the highest quality representation... significantly higher than that provided by privately retained counsel... and even prosecutors.” United States v. Brown, 785 F.3d 1337,1348 n.5 (9th Cir. 2015).


Diversity Fellowship Program

Defender Services Office (DSO)

The mission of the Defender Services Office (DSO), located within the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, is to uphold the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, and other congressional mandates.  DSO supports counsel appointed to represent individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer or pay for other critical defense services. Counsel appointed under the CJA are from either a panel of private attorneys designated by the court, or a FDO.  DSO consists of a dedicated staff of nearly 70 full-time employees and is organized into four divisions and an administrative operations staff. Cait Clarke is the DSO Chief and Pamela Hamrin serves as Deputy Chief.

Read more about the Defender Services Office


Fellowship program information

Recognizing the critical importance of diversity to a legal services program whose clients are primarily people of color, the Defender Services Program has long sought to increase the participation of attorneys from groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession.

Supported by the federal judiciary’s emphasis on workforce diversity to engender public trust and improve performance, the goal of this Fellowship Program is to enhance the quality of representation provided for persons unable to afford counsel in federal criminal proceedings by increasing the number of diverse attorneys capable of providing such representation. Diversity includes, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, and socioeconomic status.  Diversity among CJA counsel supports the cultural competency necessary to meet the needs of a diverse clientele and can lead to better case outcomes by fostering greater trust on the part of CJA clients.

The Fellowship Program will achieve this goal by creating a pipeline of diverse attorneys qualified to join FDOs and CJA panels.

Non-Capital and Capital Fellowship Components

Capital Fellowship Program - Designed to diversify and expand the pool of attorneys qualified to provide federal capital trial representation, the capital program will place two fellows—attorneys with three to five years of criminal practice experience—in FDO host offices for a two-year term during which they will receive intensive training in federal capital trial practice.  Fellows will receive a salary and benefits package comparable to other post-graduate, public interest legal training programs.

The application process for the first cohort of capital fellows closed on September 9, 2022, and it is anticipated that they will start in December 2022. The application period for the 2024-2026 fellowship period will open in Fall 2023.

Click to be notified when the 2024-2026 CAPITAL application period opens.


Non-Capital Fellowship Program - Designed for graduating law students and attorneys early in their careers, the non-capital program will place 12 fellows in different FDO host offices around the country for two-year terms during which fellows will gain federal criminal defense training and experience in providing representation in non-capital CJA cases.  Fellows will matriculate as a class.  Each class will have a number of opportunities for joint training, mentorship, and other group activities.  Fellows will receive a salary and benefits.  The salary range for non-capital fellows will be the Judiciary Salary Plan (JSP) 11/1, 12/1, or 13/1, depending on experience, which is comparable to the federal General Schedule (GS) pay scale. The salary will also reflect locality adjustments. The first cohort of non-capital fellows for the 2022-2024 fellowship period has been selected and will start in September 2022.  The application period for the 2024-2026 fellowship period will open in Fall 2023. 

Click to be notified when the 2024-2026 NON-CAPITAL application period opens.