What to Do If You Are Sued & Can't Afford a Lawyer?
Pro Se Representation
- Everyone has the right to represent themselves in court, and despite the maxim that "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client," many people who do so are satisfied with the experience and would do it again. This is called "pro se" representation.
That said, some lawsuits lend themselves to pro se representation, and some do not. Small claims lawsuits are frequently handled pro se, but copyright infringement and professional malpractice suits require too much training for the pro se litigant to have a good chance of being successful. The fact that a Latin term is used to name the process indicates what you're in for; the courts require a minimum level of knowledge and research on the part of litigants, and if you fall short of these requirements, it can be held against you.
Contact the court handling your lawsuit and ask them for advice; no court can give you a "yes" or "no" answer -- it's actually illegal for them to say "no" -- but they can give you an idea as to whether the particular kind of lawsuit is suitable for pro se representation.
Legal Aid Societies
- A certain amount of income made by the legal profession is set aside annually to support civil litigation for those who cannot afford it otherwise. Additionally, many law firms offer "pro bono" (free) services to needy clients.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the amount of legal aid set aside is sufficient to actually handle the civil litigation needs of a given community -- so if you want to go this route, research a number of different legal aid societies in your community, and contact each of them to see if you qualify for aid. You may be turned down repeatedly, so the more you can find, the more likely your odds of finding free representation.
- Finally, many law schools run legal clinics, which provide hands-on expertise to their students and pro bono services to the community. Legal clinics can backstop legal aid societies in a community. On the one hand, the services you receive may be from inexperienced lawyers; on the other, you are likely to receive more concentrated attention from your lawyer than from an experienced lawyer operating pro bono for you but dividing attention between you and her paying clients. Legal clinics can also provide support to those acting pro se, so they are a good resource regardless of which path you choose.