How to Obtain a Pro Bono Lawyer When You're Incarcerated

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If you are incarcerated and find yourself short of funds and in need of free legal help, chances are you are looking for a pro bono criminal defense attorney. They don't allow laptops in the big house, so remember these tips.

Step 1

If you cannot afford an attorney and are charged with a crime and arrested, you will be arraigned in a few days. That is, a hearing will be made for bail. Between the time you are arrested and your bail hearing, tell every one you talk to that you would like a public defender or pro bono attorney appointed to you. Let them know you cannot afford one and will need one appointed to you. Say this loud, say it clear and repeat it until one appears on the other side of the glass. It is your constitutional right.

Step 2

Understand the different ways to find an attorney. Assigned counsel is where the state or local government pays attorneys who volunteer from private firms on a rotating or case-by-case basis. Fees depend on type of case and hours required. Contract counsel is where the state or local government contracts with a private agency to provide services for a specified amount of time. Public defenders are employed full-time to manage criminal defense cases for the poor in a certain area.

Step 3

Ask a friend to start researching potential attorneys. Most law firms do take some pro bono cases. This is tedious work, and your new advocate will need to be very committed and a gifted salesperson. He or she will need to cold call attorneys and warm them up to your case and then explain your lack of funds.

Step 4

Have your friend or loved one contact the Legal Aid society in your area or contact local law schools. Law schools often have access to free or low cost law clinics and may have valuable resources for you.


  • Check with your state bar about the status of your attorney's record.
  • Be careful of obtaining an attorney you cannot afford. Once an attorney commits to a case, a judge may be reticent to let them off a case due to your inability to pay. This may not lead to you best, speediest defense.


  • If you are reading this, chances are you are not in jail. So, staying out of jail would be to your benefit. Obtain legal consultation now.
  • If you can afford an attorney get one. Criminal matters are serious- and costly. A good, albeit expensive, attorney will save you time in jail and may save you money or jail time. Free legal help is great, but you know the saying... you get what you pay for.

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