Don't lease the BMW or buy Italian suits just yet, Esquire. Being a public defender is on the lower end of the lawyer pay spectrum. Assistants start at around $40k and ones with a few years of experience can make $100k annually. Depending on your situation, you will get paid by the hour or have a salary. Either way, you're getting paid by the government (which is having some budget issues lately). Don't expect too much.
It's not about the money. If you wanted money, you could get into real estate law or represent people who want to sue sue sue! Being a public defender lets you get experience working under some of the toughest conditions in the legal system. And you also have the chance to ensure the civil rights of Americans. You should work for free!
Okay, maybe not free…but being a public servant is not necessarily going to be what makes you the big bucks…at first. If you are content to hone your craft, prove yourself as a hard worker, and build a positive reputation, you will have no problem paying the bills in the future. Today it's hamburgers, tomorrow filet mignon. Learn your craft so you can become a sought-after defense attorney who rakes in big bucks, has an army of other lawyers working under her, and stars in a commercial.