What Is 'Legal Advice'?
The line between "legal advice" and "legal information" is often blurred. As a general matter, only a lawyer may give actual legal advice, whereas any non-lawyer may recite legal information. Furthermore, it is generally illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice or otherwise represent someone other than himself or herself in a court of law.
Unlike legal information, legal advice refers to the written or oral counsel about a legal matter that would affect the rights and responsibilities of the person receiving the advice. In addition, actual legal advice requires careful analysis of the law as it applies to a person's specific situation - as opposed to speculation based on generic facts.
From a legal standpoint, the giving of legal advice is tantamount to the practice of law, and only a licensed attorney with whom one has formed an attorney-client relationship with may give actual legal advice. Because of the obligations that arise from the giving of such legal advice, the advice-giver is also bound to certain rights and responsibilities as a result of the information given.
People who either willingly or unknowingly give legal advice without the skill, judgment, or authority to do so are essentially participating in the unauthorized practice of law and, therefore, subject to court penalties .
What Legal Advice IsAdvice from friends or family does not constitute legal advice. True legal advice forms an agreement between an attorney and his or her client based on a particular legal matter the client is experiencing.
In a nutshell, legal advice has the following characteristics:
- Requires legal knowledge, skill, education and judgment
- Applies specific law to a particular set of circumstances
- Affects someone's legal rights or responsibilities
- Creates rights and responsibilities in the advice-giver
Unlike legal information - such as information posted on a street sign - legal advice proposes a specific course of action a client should take. For instance, it's the difference between telling someone what to do (legal advice) as opposed to how to do it (legal information).
- Selecting, drafting, or completing legal documents or agreements that affect the legal rights of a person
- Representing a person before a court or other governing body
- Negotiating legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of a person
- Speculating an outcome
- Selecting or filling out specific forms on behalf of a client
Specific legal advice questions may include:
- Should I file for bankruptcy?
- Does my disability qualify for federal assistance?
- What kind of recovery can I receive for my accident? injuries
What Legal Advice is Not
While legal advice is specific, direct, and proposes a course of action, legal information, on the other hand, is factual, generic, and does not address any one particular cause of action. To help avoid the confusion that often comes with legal information, websites and individuals will often go to great lengths to clarify that any information contained in their site should not be construed as legal advice nor form an attorney-client relationship.
Examples that do not constitute actual legal advice:
- Legal information obtained from free online legal websites, including a law firm or attorney's own website
- Advice from friends, family members, or former clients of a lawyer
- Information you hear on the radio
- Information you read on social media websites
- Information you see in news periodicals or on billboards
- Responses to legal questions posted in online Q&A boards, even if provided by a licensed attorney
- Printed materials listed in a "how to" guide
- Legal "self help" forms
Specific legal information questions might include:
- Where can I find the Federal Medical Leave Act?
- What does the acronym EEOC mean?
- What are the gun laws in my state?
Depending on the situation, legal advice and legal information can both be useful. While some situations require the advice of an attorney - such as filing a lawsuit or defending criminal charges - other situations may simply warrant obtaining legal information. Read Practice Area Definitions for legal information about a particular topic, or search for a lawyer in your area to get legal advice about a specific legal matter.
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