I assume you're referring to a criminal defense lawyer appointed by a judge to represent an indigent person accused of a criminal offense. If not, what follows is inapplicable and useless information.
The only benefit of having a court appointed lawyer is that the client does not have to pay him or her for legal services. These lawyers do generally get paid. The taxpayers usually pick up the tab, either directly or indirectly. In some places, there are public defenders' offices of lawyers whose only job is to defend indigent criminal defendants. In others, lawyers ask to be listed with the court as being willing to handle indigent cases and the judge appoints them on a rotating basis. However, this type of legal work pays poorly, so the better criminal lawyers generally prefer not to do it.
I have no idea what the statistics are on whether retained counsel win more or fewer cases than appointed counsel. I respect all lawyers who ethically and vigorously represent their clients, indigent and otherwise, appointed and retained. However, if I or a family member of mine were accused of a criminal offense, I would spare no effort to scrape up the money to hire and pay a reputable, talented, experienced criminal lawyer. I think that, as with most other things in life, in the world of courts and the justice system, you pretty much get what you pay for.
While it is typically true that you get what you pay for in the case of lawyers that isn't always the case. There are attorneys that you pay a high price for and really aren't very good and there are attorneys that you pay little to nothing that do a superb job. In reality I can say it depends. But if you go with a court appointed attorney you do not get a choice, you get whoever is chosen for you. You can't request a new attorney barring any conflicts that attorney may have unless you decide then to pay for one. So when you choose to pay for one you at least get the opportunity to screen the attorney you are looking to hire to determine if they are the right person for you.
As the previous poster said, court appointed attorneys do get paid, but they are paid drastically less than they would get if the client directly hired them. The attorney regardless is supposed to work for you and your best interests. If at any time you feel that the attorney is not doing that you need to look elsewhere regardless of whether you paid for the attorney or not.
Court appointed lawyers are paid for by the county or state. Thus usually includes their trial time. So they are compensated pretty much the same way a retained lawyer us. Sometimes court appointed attorneys may have a pretty big caseload which may impact a little in the personal touch. However, it has been my experience that they are often just as effective as a retained attorney. Outcomes of cases are usually driven by the facts of the case.
The court appointed attorney gets paid win or lose. Some court appointed lawyers don't care if they win and do a bad job. Others are outstanding lawyers who do an exceptional job. Most are motivated to preserve their reputation. For the citizen accused of a crime you will not know what you are getting until you have worked with the lawyer for a time. Obviously, when you hire a lawyer, you have the benefit of researching the lawyer's background before you hire them.
It is not so much that "you get what you pay for." Rather, I strongly feel that a Court appointed attorney is simply handling a much higher caseload than that of a private attorney. Consequently, the private attorney can (or should) be able to provide more of a personal and individualized approach to his/her client's case. That is, you're not just "a number" to a private attorney.
With this said, I know a lot of public defenders that are really good lawyers. Just keep in mind, a public defender will have both a job and future cases whether he wins or loses. Thus, he may not have as much incentive to win as a private attorney.
Best of luck.
Joshua S. Guillory
Answers posted by me on this site are not to be considered legal advice. I am currently licensed to practice law in Louisiana. I advise those seeking legal representation to contact an attorney for a consultation.