If you’re charged with a crime in Harris County, you have the right to an attorney — even if you can’t afford to pay.

If you don't have much money, you can get a lawyer who is appointed by the court or the Office of Managed Assigned Counsel. You will answer questions about your finances to see if you qualify.

When you first go to court, you may be asked to fill out forms about your income and expenses. The judge may ask you, “Do you want more time to hire a lawyer or do you want to apply for one to be appointed?”

Sometimes, an employee of Pretrial Services will interview you in the jail during booking and ask about your finances. They share your answers with the judge, and the judge can appoint you a lawyer.

The law says that you have the right to a lawyer if you can’t afford one—even if you or your family pays for bail.

Like many things in life, it is mostly up to luck. Some appointed attorneys are extremely good - better than money could buy. Others are not.

When the court gives you a lawyer, they can either choose a “private appointed lawyer” from a list of names or they can appoint the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. You generally cannot choose your appointed lawyer.

An "appointed lawyer" is a private attorney with their own law office. They apply to take cases based on their knowledge and experience. If approved, their names appear on a list and the courts can appoint them. They are paid an hourly wage to work on your case and can request additional funding for investigators and experts.

A "public defender" is an employee of the Harris County Public Defender's Office, which is like a large law firm. When the office is appointed, we select one of our lawyers and send them to court. Public defenders are paid a salary and have access to investigators and experts who work within the same office.

It is important to choose your lawyer carefully.

  • Make sure the lawyer mostly does criminal defense in Harris County. Other types of law are not the same.
  • Ask friends for referrals and look online for lawyer reviews and websites.
  • Call and interview them. Most will talk to you for free.

A good lawyer will:

  • listen carefully to your concerns and treat you with respect.
  • explain things in a way that you can understand.
  • never promise a dismissal or other result.
  • clearly explain their fees and give you a written contract or letter