Dena Standley | November 15, 2022
Summary: Lawyers do not give free, casual legal advice because they don't fully understand the situation of a case without taking it on, and they may be unfamiliar with the law in your jurisdiction. Most attorneys seek to protect themselves from malpractice allegations, wrongful advice, and possible financial liability. When lawyers refrain from advising you, they also protect you from relying on quick answers that do not help your case.
You ask a lawyer friend of yours if you are likely to win your case, and they say, “yes and no,” and quickly change the subject. Why won't they answer with a yes or a no? You can’t help but wonder why attorneys can be so stingy with legal advice.
It turns out lawyers have some excellent reasons for acting the way they do. And while most of the reasons protect their practice, they are also watching out for you. They do not want you to lose your case because they gave legal advice that was wrong for your particular case.
Let us look at the reasons behind lawyers' hesitation to give legal advice to non-clients.
Lawyers have learned from experience that free advice solicitors never give full details about the scenario for which they want advice. It's human to "forget" some points, especially the ones that don’t favor them. Some intentionally relate only parts of the story that support their arguments.
It would be unwise for a lawyer to give wrong advice unwittingly. So they don't.
Additionally, only your lawyer, who has access to the documents with the fine print, can have the complete picture.
Imagine the following scenario.
Example: Antoine is the firstborn of three adult siblings. When their parents die in a road crash, Antoine is shocked to learn that they left the entire estate to his two sisters. He meets his lawyer friend at a local pub and asks if he can dispute his parents' will and win. The lawyer is tempted to give her opinion but remembers that she does not know the entire story. To provide good advice she would need to answer such questions as: Is Antoine in dire financial need? What was his relationship with his parents? Did his parents treat him fairly, or were they prejudiced against him? Had he ever received any assets from his parents when they were alive? What is the law in his state? So the friend says, “You need to speak with your lawyer about that or hire me if you do not have one already.”
Is Antoine's friend being unfair? Not if you consider the lawyer’s reasons for acting as she did. And even if she knew Antoine's situation well enough, she would need to read and research the applicable laws. She is not a walking encyclopedia.
Lawyers are wary of developing an attorney-client relationship with people they do not officially represent. Once the relationship starts, the law requires them to help the “client” and binds them with a series of regulations of dos and don'ts. Attorneys must also answer to the American Bar Association (ABA) and can be reprimanded or even disbarred if they cross an ethical line with legal advice.
People who have not studied law tend to trust every word an attorney speaks. However, the law protects you if you trust them, whether they paid for the advice or not. If you can prove that a lawyer misguided you, they may be liable for the damages their advice caused you. It can also be highly damaging to their reputation. It sometimes happens with paying clients. That is why lawyers have insurance.
Imagine paying for damages to someone who has not paid you a dime! It is no wonder lawyers do not give free legal advice. Even their websites are filled with disclaimers to help you distinguish legal information from legal advice.
Lawyers' investments do not include a lot of physical capital. Aside from renting an office and buying and maintaining computers and desks, the rest is knowledge. So lawyers don't give legal advice because they want you to pay for the education and experience they spent time and money gathering. Not to mention they need to pay rent and staff salaries.
It is against the law for a lawyer to give advice that conflicts with their client's interests. So sometimes, they refrain from advising you because they do not know all the parties in the case. Their client could be your opponent. They may need time to determine that they are not representing conflicting interests.
Next time you meet a lawyer hesitant to give legal advice, remember that they do not want to harm their reputation by misleading you. They are also just trying to make a living, so they prefer paying clients.
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