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Court-Appointed Attorneys as a Disability Accommodation in Civil Cases

Court How-Tos (Civil Procedure)

This article answers frequently asked questions about court-appointed attorneys as an accommodation for Texans with disabilities.

In a civil case in Texas, can a person with a disability request a court-appointed attorney as an accommodation? Yes. Will the court appoint an attorney? Probably not. This handout answers these and other frequently asked questions Texans with disabilities might have about requesting a court-appointed attorney as a disability accommodation.

In a civil case in Texas, if I sue someone or if I am sued, can I get a court-appointed attorney?

Maybe, but it is rare.

Unlike some criminal cases, there is no constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney in a civil case. Sometimes a law may create this right, but that is not common. 

Even without a law requiring it, judges have the power to appoint an attorney. But it is rarely done, and only in unusual situations.

What would I have to show to get the judge to appoint an attorney for me in a civil case?

Judges consider several things, including:

  • Your ability to pay for an attorney.
  • Your efforts to get an attorney on your own.
  • The type of case you have, and how complicated it is.
  • Your ability to investigate your case and present it in court.
  • Whether there is a lot of conflicting testimony (“he said, she said”), which may take a lot of skill to present, or to cross-examine witnesses.
  • Whether getting an attorney appointed will help you, the judge, and the other side, by shortening the trial and helping to get a fair outcome.

Judges might consider other things, too. And different judges might consider different things. In many cases, the most important things are the type and complexity of your case, and your ability to investigate and present it.

But regardless of the above list, judges usually deny a request for an appointed attorney in a civil case.

Can I request an attorney as an accommodation? What if my disability will make it hard (or impossible) for me to investigate or present my case in court?

Some judges will appoint an attorney for a person in your situation. But again, this is rare.

Judges may deny an appointed attorney if a person can read, write, and respond to the court, or if they could do that with some other reasonable accommodation besides an appointed attorney. In other words, judges will probably look at other kinds of accommodations before they will consider appointing you an attorney. If some other accommodation would work, many judges will refuse to appoint an attorney.

How do I request an attorney as an accommodation?

First, try to find out if the court you are in has a particular process in place to ask for an accommodation. You might get that information by calling the court, or looking online at the court’s website. Courts typically have their own rules and processes.

The request for an accommodation does not have to be in writing, but we strongly recommend you do so, because some judges may require it. To get started with a request, see our Sample Letter: Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation in Court. However, it is even better if you use any forms that your court has.

We recommend you ask for an accommodation as soon as possible.

Who do I contact about a request for accommodations?

Each court may handle things differently, but there should be contact information on the court’s website.

Are my rights to a court-appointed attorney as an accommodation for my disability the same if my case is in federal court?

Yes and no. If your civil case is in federal court, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply. But federal courts have accommodation policies, so you should follow the advice above.

Federal courts have specific polices for accommodating persons with communication disabilities, like individuals who are blind or deaf. To read more about this, see the National Association of the Deaf’s article on Communication Access in Federal Courts.