I recently decided that I cannot continue to be a public defender. The job is not a legal one, but one designed more for social work--social work without any resources to actually help people. I cannot tell you then number of times I wake up disappointed that I have to live through another day, being over-worked and accomplishing nothing. I feel frustrated and angry at myself that I can't do this job. I really wanted to do this and do it well. But I won't do it at the expense of the rest of my life.
Yes, I could change the way I practice. I could cut most of the social work out of what I do. I could attempt to humanize my clients less with the prosecutors and judges. I could deal strictly with legal issues that come up in my cases. I've reflected on that and determined that this would not make things any better. I've done the social work aspect of this job. I've seen the good things that can come from it, like getting a no-time misdemeanor plea out of a felony charge that comes with a minimum sentence of a year in jail. If things like that are possible, shouldn't I attempt to do that for all my clients? If I don't, am I not partially playing judge? Yes, this client deserves my time and attention, but that one over there doesn't. I am so far from being able to do that. One person should not be more deserving of my time than another.
I've heard that over time you begin to see which cases really deserve your time and attention and which ones don't. But I've had cases that looked impossible and pointless that turned out to be different than they first appeared because I did the extra social work. I never expect to be good enough to develop any e.s.p in this area.
So there it is. I haven't resigned yet, but I dream about it every day. Every day I make new contacts and work towards my next job.