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An assigned counsel means a lawyer who is appointed by the court to represent an indigent person. Generally, assigned counsel are private lawyers appointed by the courts to handle particular cases. An assigned counsel is also called as a court-appointed attorney.
In N.Y. County Lawyers' Ass'n v. State, 196 Misc. 2d 761 (N.Y. Misc. 2003), the court observed that “Assigned counsel are necessary in the Family Court, Criminal Court and Criminal Term of Supreme Court based upon the system selected by New York City to provide counsel to the indigent and in order to service multi-defendant/respondent cases. There is a substantial need for assigned counsel to represent both children and indigent adults in family and criminal proceedings. The assigned counsel plan in New York City has evolved into the primary source of legal representation for adults in family court proceedings: abuse, neglect, custody, child protective, and domestic violence cases. The Legal Aid Society and the other institutional providers represent one defendant or respondent in a multiple defendant or respondent case. The assigned counsel plan serves a vital and important function by providing representation to indigent defendants and respondents in cases where the institutional providers have a conflict of interest. These conflicts of interest occur frequently in juvenile delinquency cases and on a regular basis in child protective proceedings.”