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Can You Represent Someone in Court If You Aren't a Lawyer? Blacks Law Dictionary

By James Hirby

These days, hiring an experienced lawyer to represent an individual who has been accused of a crime can be ruinously expensive. Even junior associates at second-tier law firms are permitted to bill their clients upwards of $150 per hour. Senior associates and partners can bill several times that amount. In fact, many seasoned trial lawyers who conduct product-liability lawsuits and other lucrative legal operations make upwards of $1 million per year. Defendants who lack deep financial reserves can quickly find themselves overwhelmed by legal bills.

If you know someone who has been accused of a crime, you might be wondering whether you're legally permitted to represent him or her in court. Depending upon your familiarity with basic legal principles, you might be able to appear competent and confident in front of a judge. You might even impress your non-lawyer peers with your grasp of basic legal concepts and precedents.

Unfortunately, there are no circumstances under which you'll be able to represent your accused acquaintance without first passing the bar exam in your state. In fact, individuals who have not been admitted to a state bar are explicitly banned from practicing law within that jurisdiction. This prohibition extends to laypeople as well as bar-certified lawyers from other areas. Despite his or her obvious legal experience, there is no guarantee that a seasoned lawyer who has been cleared to practice law in Oregon will be permitted to represent a client who stands trial in Texas. Although many states have "reciprocal" arrangements that permit lawyers with "outside experience" to practice law within their borders, this occurs on a case-by-case basis. Further, non-lawyers are not permitted to take advantage of such arrangements.

In fact, practicing law without a bar license is a crime. If you attempt to represent an acquaintance without a license, you'll probably find yourself in one of two unpleasant situations.

In the first scenario, you'll make it clear to the judge who presides over your case that you're not qualified or licensed to practice law. Your honesty will probably pay dividends: In this case, the judge will simply prohibit you from representing your "client" and order him or her to seek alternate counsel. In the second scenario, you'll misrepresent yourself as a trained, licensed lawyer. This is blatantly illegal. Once you're determined to be an unlicensed practitioner of the law, you'll be thrown off the case and charged with a crime. Should you be convicted, you'll face hefty fines and a possible prison sentence.

Nathaniel Brown