There are several programs operated by the Tennessee Bar Association that offers legal help to anyone seeking it. If you're in need of a lawyer for criminal defense in Tennessee but don't have the financial resources to afford one, then Legal Aid may be of interest to you. Legal Aid offers free legal representation throughout the state, although the number of lawyers willing to do pro bono work through Legal Aid isn't always the same. Tennessee has eight different Legal Aid offices in the state.
If you simply can't afford an attorney and Legal Aid is unable to help (they may not always have an attorney who specializes in your crime willing to take on a case for free), then you may petition the court for assistance. If you can show that you are not able to afford a lawyer, you may be assigned one for free. These court appointed attorneys are paid by public funds and are trained to represent individuals in criminal defense in Tennessee. While these attorneys are free, but you aren't given any choice in who represents you. Sometimes, the attorney you are appointed simply isn't the best at criminal defense, and when it's your life on the line, you want the best.
In order to be assigned a court appointed attorney, you must turn over various financial documents to the court showing that you can't afford a lawyer on your own. However, if these records show you make a certain amount of money, you may be required to pay part of your legal fees. It all depends on how much your lawyer costs and how much money you make.
In any case, you do have the right to defense yourself. However, while this may be cheaper in the short run, it's often disastrous in the end. This is because criminal defense in Tennessee is a very complex field, and very few average citizens know enough of the ins and outs of the law to defense themselves as effectively as a trained lawyer could. This is the reason criminal defense is one of the areas that includes public defenders and free legal advise for those who qualify. If you aren't able to pay for an attorney, it's strongly recommended that you accept the assistance of a court appointed lawyer and allow them to plan your legal defense.