Local bar associations usually offer lawyer referral services, often without charge. The clerk's office in each district court usually is able to help find a referral service. But personnel in the clerk's office and other federal court employees are prohibited from providing legal advice to individual litigants.
Defendants in criminal proceedings have a right to a lawyer, and they are entitled to have counsel appointed at government expense if they are financially unable to obtain adequate representation by private counsel. The Criminal Justice Act requires a court determination that a person is financially eligible for court-appointed counsel. Defendants may be required to pay some of these costs.
There is no general right to free legal assistance in civil proceedings. Some litigants obtain free or low-cost representation through local bar association referrals, or through legal services organizations. Litigants in civil cases may also proceed pro se; that is, they may represent themselves without the assistance of a lawyer. A motion for appointment of counsel is available on our website under forms.