Established 1934 by a group of Philadelphia lawyers, the Defender Association represents indigent criminal defendants. The 215 full time assistant defenders represent defendants in adult and juvenile state and federal trial and appellate courts, at civil and criminal mental health hearings, and at state and county violation of probation/parole hearings. Association attorneys also serve as the Child Advocate in neglect and dependency court.

The Defender Association is run by a Board of Directors, and is not a state or city agency even though the City of Philadelphia funds it.

Approximately seventy percent of all persons arrested in Philadelphia are represented by the Defender Association, and it has the largest criminal defense appellate practice in Pennsylvania.

In 1987, the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association voted the Defender Association the most outstanding public defender office in the country. The committee especially recognized the office for its training programs including: a year-long new attorney training program, sponsoring Mandatory Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education programs, and an eleven week summer law internship for second year law students.

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