Many years ago, when I started my first private legal practice, I accepted court appointed clients through a County court system. The county at issue paid a decent hourly rate for legal work and, despite a few instances with judges who took the attitude of "I don't care how much you worked or whether it was necessary, because you exceeded what the court administrator tells us is appropriate for this case", for the most part had no problem getting my bills approved. (And, in case you were wondering, not once did I have a judge or court administrator complain that my bills were too low.) Taking appointed clients can be a great way to get experience with court time, and also to learn client management skills with some very difficult clients. (While most are not any more difficult to work with than private clients, a minority of appointed client will be among the most trying a lawyer is likely to encounter in the course of a career.)
The system in that county worked pretty well. A surprising number of experienced lawyers kept their names on the list. But the experience was quite different in neighboring counties, where different systems of appointment and reimbursement existed, and it was difficult to get any reasonable number of appointments without knowing a judge, or without engaging in some form of "assembly line justice" - going to court with several appointed clients, such that an aggregate of the typically flat fees paid for particular cases provided a decent return. Going to trial was almost guaranteed to be a money losing proposition. Nonetheless, there were some excellent trial attorneys accepting appointments in those counties. But the inadequate "flat fee" system is also the type that makes for the worst stereotypes about appointed practice - the client meeting the lawyer for the first time in court, and getting only a few minutes of consultation before being called up to enter a plea.
There is a national prejudice against "public defenders" - which, technically speaking, are different from appointed attorneys (although a public defender's office or an attorney from that office may well be "appointed" to represent a particular indigent client). An appointed attorney is typically an attorney in private practice, who accepts appointments to provide indigent defense. A public defender is employed by a governmental unit to provide indigent defense on a full-time basis. (A third possibility is where the county will accept bids from private lawyers and law offices to provide indigent services, and the winning bidder essentially becomes a public defender - usually with far less money and resources to work with than a true public defender's office.) Contrary to stereotype, full-time, professional public defenders are typically sound legal practitioners. The best and worst criminal defense attorneys are typically private lawyers.
In many, perhaps most, parts of the U.S., indigent criminal defense is not adequately funded. For example in Virginia, even after increased funding,
Crimes that can land a defendant in prison for 20 years, for example, can net an attorney no more than $395 -- no matter how hard a lawyer works or how long a trial goes. The state pays on average only $12 more for a criminal defense than it did three decades ago. No reform that fails to lift these ludicrously low fee caps will give Virginia the system it needs to meet its constitutional obligations and protect people from wrongful convictions.Of course, that is unlikely to change unless people become concerned about wrongful convictions and quality of justice. In other words, that is unlikely to change.