Working with a Criminal Lawyer While Representing Yourself

You may be able to find a lawyer willing to advise you as you represent yourself in a criminal case.

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Defendants considering self-representation might seek out an attorney willing to serve as a legal coach. The idea of a legal coach is to combine an attorney’s knowledge with the defendant’s time. Because a defendant pays only for the periodic use of the attorney’s time, the cost of a legal coach can be far less than turning a case over to a private attorney.

Here are some of the ways a legal coach can help a self-represented defendant:

  • A legal coach can advise a defendant to make a pretrial motion and even draft the motion; the defendant can go to court and argue the motion.
  • A legal coach can advise a defendant what documents to look for and where they might be found; the defendant can conduct the actual document search.
  • A legal coach can advise a defendant on a variety of strategies, such as whether to accept a prosecutor’s plea offer.

If a defendant wants an attorney to handle a trial at the last minute, the legal coach who’s been working with the defendant can probably step in and take over without unnecessary delay.

Difficulty Finding a Coach

You may find it very difficult to get a lawyer to act as your coach. Some attorneys are worried about their liability if they give wrong advice based on incomplete information; others do not want to be involved with a case unless they are in control of it. Therefore, it may make sense for a defendant thinking about self-representation to line up a legal coach before making the final decision to self-represent. As a general rule, the greater the effort you have made to understand your case and learn some basics of criminal law, the more likely it is that an attorney will agree to serve as your law coach.

Hiring a Lawyer After Self-Representing Yourself

Just as defendants can generally substitute one attorney for another, defendants representing themselves can substitute an attorney for themselves. Many defendants choose to represent themselves in the hope of working out a quick deal with a prosecutor, and then hire an attorney if a speedy resolution is not possible.

This article was excerpted from The Criminal Law Handbook, by Paul Bergman, J.D., and Sara J. Berman, J.D.

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