Chief Defender

Chief Defender

Defender Association of Philadelphia

Philadelphia, PA   |   August 10, 2021

About the Defender Association of Philadelphia

The Defender Association of Philadelphia (“the Defender”) ensures that poverty never prevents access to justice.

The Defender represents approximately 70% of all persons arrested in Philadelphia. Rooted in Philadelphia for over 80 years, the Defender provides high-quality, client-centered legal representation, courtroom advocacy, and a connection to social services.

More than just a law firm, the Defender’s practice strives to protect the Constitution, ensure a fair and equitable criminal justice system, and improve outcomes. The Defender is a nonprofit created in 1934 by a group of Philadelphia lawyers dedicated to the ideal of high-quality legal services for indigent criminal defendants.

The Defender collaborates with justice system partners and community stakeholders on a variety of issues to eradicate racial disparities and the culture of mass incarceration. 

These issues include:

  • Ending cash bail
  • Reforming probation/parole practices
  • Supporting successful diversion programs
  • Empowering communities to play a more active role in the criminal justice process

The Defender is driven by outcomes. As a result, the Defender focuses on getting people out of the criminal justice system in the early stages to avoid an arduous process that can be detrimental to clients, families, and communities. Its mission-driven, client-centered model focuses on outcomes that support a system that is fundamentally fair and creates safer, stronger communities. Its unique model and approach equip attorneys and staff with the skills and support they need to get the best outcomes for clients.

Pre-Entry Support: Incarceration pre-trial often leaves individuals more desperate. The Defender works in partnership with community groups and justice partners to support clients pre-trial. By helping individuals to keep their homes, jobs, and connection to social services and supports, the Defender team can achieve fair outcomes and support stronger, safer communities.

Re-Entry Programs: The Defender helps individuals successfully transition back to their communities following incarceration, through job training, social service programs, and other community-based solutions.

Criminal Justice Reform: The Defender leadership team works with justice partners and stakeholders to support policy changes to change the culture of mass incarceration. By working to end cash bail, reform probation/parole detainers, support successful diversion programs, and empower communities to play a more active role in the criminal justice process, the Defender can fundamentally change our system to reduce racial disparities and end our over-reliance on incarceration.

From attorneys and paralegals to social workers, mitigation specialists, administrators, and investigators, the Defender’s staff are the organization’s greatest strength in advancing its vision for a more equitable future. To better support its talented and committed team, staff recently formed a union, the Defenders Union. Looking ahead, the Defender is building on its incredible legacy while continuing to live out its ideals – strengthening our systems, assuring justice, and expanding equity.

For more information on Philly Defenders, please visit its website.

The Opportunity

The Defender is seeking an exceptional, visionary Chief Defender to lead the organization to achieve even greater levels of strategic influence and impact – knowing that these external indicators derive from a healthy organization with talented staff, strong partnerships, and a solid reputation in the field.

This is a critical and pivotal moment in time, with the opportunity to advance the movement for racial equity and social justice. The Chief Defender will help envision the Defender of the future while honoring the past, with the Defender continuing to play an integral role in criminal justice reform.

The Chief Defender will be responsible for carrying out the Defender’s consistent achievement of its mission, strategic vision, and financial objectives. The Chief Defender will bring transparency and visionary leadership to all areas of the Defender, providing oversight of the organization’s operations, culture, values, talent, and financial performance.

Reporting to the Board of Directors and leading an extraordinary team, the Chief Defender will spearhead the development and implementation of strategies to ensure the operational and cultural health of the Defender as it evolves to enable even greater impact. The Chief Defender’s direct reports include the 1st Assistant Defender, Business Manager, Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Defender of Adult Trial Practice, and the Director of Policy and Practice.

With a budget of nearly $50 million the Defender team includes more than 500 attorneys, social workers, paralegals, mitigation specialists, investigators, administrators, and other staff collaborating to ensure that everyone, regardless of income, has access to high-quality defense when facing criminal charges. Many former Defenders go on in their careers to serve as judges, state and federal officials, and successful private practitioners.

The Chief Defender will embody the Defender’s strong commitment to racial and social justice and will enhance operations and promote the organization, accelerating its impact, resource development, and recognition. This leader will be a highly capable manager, demonstrating investment in and maintaining a presence with staff across teams and roles.

In collaboration with the Board and staff, the Chief Defender will lead the Defender into its next chapter, ensuring the organization’s external presence and internal structures are aligned with its mission and vision of justice and equity.

This is a remarkable opportunity for an exceptional leader to join a groundbreaking organization and lead a group of passionate and talented stakeholders in transforming access to equity and opportunity in Philadelphia and beyond, at a time when racial tensions and social inequality have led to challenges and pervasive fears that mirror decades past.

The Chief Defender will be at the forefront of the fight to reform our criminal justice system, and the imagining of new paradigms for our future.

Candidate Profile

The most competitive candidates for the position will have the following personal and professional qualities, skills, and characteristics:

Visionary and Strategic Leader

Motivated by the Defender’s mission, the Chief Defender will be a strategic and results-oriented leader with a strong track record as a public defender and social justice leader with the ability to affect change. An effective ‘big picture’ strategist, the Chief Defender will understand and implement best practices for organizational management, ensuring that overall day-to-day operations are aligned with strategic goals. Moreover, the Chief Defender will bring a demonstrated understanding of sound financial management practices and experience developing a robust partnership with a Board. Deeply invested in staff voice, the Chief Defender will be committed to developing a strong working relationship with the staff union, the Defender Union. Engaging and supportive, this individual will be experienced in leading a dynamic and expert staff to meet organizational goals through teamwork and by effectively leveraging individual strengths. Fundamentally, the successful candidate will believe in empowering the staff and maximizing the resources of the Board to drive the Defender with the right focus in the right areas.

Agent for Change

A proactive leader with the mindset to change the status quo and reinvigorate the criminal justice reform landscape, the Chief Defender will have the ability to diagnose critical areas for attention, build shared understanding, and implement clear strategies. The Chief Defender will be a bold leader and catalyst for cultural transformation, with experience creating systems and policy change. The Chief Defender’s eye will be consistently focused on the future and how to best adapt the Defender in a changing political and social environment. The Chief Defender will have experience adapting to external change by building and leveraging new approaches to address emerging challenges. The Chief Defender must have the ability to think, plan, and act in a cross-functional, collaborative, and integrative way. A trailblazer, the Chief Defender will have the drive and passion to remain at the forefront of the sector by continuing to refine opportunities to serve the mission collaboratively with the staff and Board. This leader will have the ability to actualize a new reality for the criminal justice system together with the staff and Board, building on the Defender’s mission and vision for the future. Fundamentally, the successful candidate will be an ‘agent for change’ with the ability to assure the Defender’s reputation as a leading social justice organization.

Relationship and Coalition Builder

The Chief Defender will have the character and confidence to work comfortably in a highly visible role and to interact effectively with a broad range of constituents. The Chief Defender will serve as the chief ambassador for the Defender. The Chief Defender will be able to convey the Defender’s mission, priorities, and impact to a range of constituents, including justice partners and community leaders. With an intrinsic belief in the importance of community engagement, the Chief Defender will strengthen awareness of the Defender in communities across Philadelphia and beyond. This leader will bring an understanding of the changing face of Philadelphia as well as existing and emerging power structures. Most importantly, the successful candidate will be an exceptional communicator who engages with and builds community by uplifting the voices of others.

Inclusive and Engaged Leader

The Chief Defender will be skilled at listening to and learning from others, with a deep belief in fostering a transparent, empowering, and productive organizational culture by amplifying community, collaboration, and partnership with the Defender’s leadership and the staff union. The Chief Defender will have the ability to continually strengthen the Defender’s sense of shared purpose by engaging others in facing the opportunities and challenges ahead. The Chief Defender will be skilled at building effective relationships across the Defender, guiding staff as they work in concert toward a broader vision and set of goals. An empathic, proactive, and values-driven leader, the Chief Defender will be able to achieve consensus among differing opinions. The Chief Defender will have a deep understanding of effective nonprofit management, with an instinctively inclusive leadership philosophy that assures the personal and professional development and growth of all employees. The Chief Defender will lead by example, demonstrating transparency, humility, empathy, respect, and sense of humor.

Advocate of Racial Justice, Equity & Inclusion

The Chief Defender will come to the Defender as a thought leader with a deep commitment to racial justice, equity, and inclusion. Equipped with a multi-faceted understanding of the evolving racial justice landscape, the successful candidate will lead the organization’s efforts to develop shared language and strategies to challenge and dismantle oppressive systems and barriers to opportunity. The Chief Defender will have a thoughtful, empathic approach to advancing racial justice and will be known as an active listener and responsive, justice-oriented leader throughout the organization and externally. A resourceful coach and capable facilitator, the Chief Defender will have the ability to lead and guide the management team to work in partnership with the Defender Union in support of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. The Chief Defender will be energized by the prospect of leading the organization’s staff and Board of Directors in developing awareness, comfort, and confidence to address and champion equity in all aspects of the organization. Culturally competent, the successful candidate will have the character and integrity necessary to develop rapport with people of varying experiences, backgrounds, and philosophies. Fundamentally, the right candidate will foster a culture where staff can bring their whole selves to work and thrive. Above all, this leader will see a unionized workplace as an important opportunity for the Defender to live out its values while achieving its key priorities.

Passion for the Mission

The Chief Defender will share a belief in and commitment to creating systemic change, including through data-driven policy solutions. With a personal connection to the mission, the Chief Defender will possess a deep drive and passion for engaging a wide range of stakeholders, from community members and grassroots organizers to social services organizations and supports, in achieving the Defender’s vision. This leader will be driven by a deeply rooted passion for equity for each and every Philadelphian, regardless of financial resources. The ideal candidate will be an individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics, and values — someone who can be trusted without reservation.

In addition, every Defender attorney, including the Chief Defender, is a licensed member of the Pennsylvania Bar and is not permitted to have a private practice or to take part in partisan political activity.

Compensation & Benefits

Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience.


Koya Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Chartise Clark and Tabatha Skelton of Koya Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please submit your materials here or email Chartise and Tabatha directly at [email protected]. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.


The Defender Association provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetics. In addition to federal law requirements, The Defender Association complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation, and training.

About Koya Partners

Koya Partners, a part of Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Partners, visit