Research Goals and Method


When we began our empirical research in September of 1984, our purpose was to examine how the 18-B Panel of private attorneys had grown from a small, residual defense entity to a major provider of indigent defense services. We sought empirical data that would enable us to: (1) describe the structure of the 18-B Panel and nature of Panel practice; (2) compare the quality of representation provided by the Panel with that of the Legal Aid Society; (3) gauge the proportionate share of indigent defendants represented by each entity; (4) explain the movement of cases between the two entities; and (5) assess the two entities’ comparative case costs.

We obtained the cooperation of the presiding justice and the 18-B Panel administrator of the First Department (New York and Bronx counties). They provided us with the Panel records for the period from 1973 to 1984 and allowed us to conduct an in-court observation study in New York County (Manhattan). We chose New York County for our observation study for two reasons. First, the institutional defense system of New York City originated in New York County. Second, New York County has the greatest concentration of attorneys and the largest and most diversified caseload in New York City.

Ultimately, however, we modified some of our objectives because we could not obtain records and aggregate statistics on staffing and lawyering activities, and on attorney caseloads from the Legal Aid Society and because the size of our research staff was limited.

We anticipated that this would limit our ability to compare the quality of representation provided by the Legal Aid Society with that provided by 18-B Panel attorneys. Without the staffing and caseload data, we were unable to systematically assess Society staff attorneys’ individual caseloads or to quantitatively analyze the particular lawyering tasks they performed.

This lack of data did not ultimately limit our ability to analyze the proportionate share of representation provided by the Legal Aid Society and by the 18-B Panel and to compare the case costs of both defense entities. The administrative judge of New York County allowed us to examine court┬árecords that documented the arraignment caseloads of Society attorneys. By comparing these data with the caseload records maintained by the Panel administrator, and with our own court observations, we explained how indigent cases were distributed between the two entities. In addition, we obtained the Society’s internal monthly activity reports from confidential sources. These documents enabled us to analyze the Society’s citywide assignments and dispositions and to compute the number of Criminal Court cases and citywide trials completed by the Society, the proportionate share of indigent defendants represented and the average cost per case of Society representation.

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