What is “Legal Advice”?
Ofttimes, the line between “legal advice” and “legal information” can be blurred. It is generally understood that only lawyers can give legal advice. However, any non-lawyer can recite legal info. It is also illegal for a non-lawyer to give legal advice or represent another person in court.
Legal advice, unlike legal information is written or spoken counsel on a legal matter that will affect the rights and obligations of the person who receives it. Actual legal advice involves careful analysis of how the law applies to a specific person’s situation and not speculation based only on general facts.
Giving legal advice is legal. Actual legal advice can only be given by licensed lawyers with whom the client has established an attorney-client relation. Due to the obligations associated with providing legal advice, advice-givers have specific responsibilities that they must fulfill.
Unknowingly, people who give legal advice to others without the knowledge, skill, judgment, authority, or ability to do so are guilty of the unauthorized practicing of law. This can lead to severe penalties.
What legal advice is it?
Friends and family are not qualified to give legal advice. A true legal opinion is an agreement between an lawyer and their client that is based upon the particular legal matter being dealt with.
Legal advice is, in a nutshell:
- It requires legal skills, knowledge, education, judgment.
- It applies a specific law to a set of circumstances
- It may affect someone’s legal right or responsibilities
- It creates new responsibilities for advice-givers
Legal advice, unlike legal information such as street signs, suggests the client a specific course. It is the difference between telling someone how to do something (legal information) and telling them what to do. Examples of legal advice are:
The selection, drafting or completion of legal documents or agreements that impact the legal rights and interests of a person
- Representation of a person before any court or other governing bodies
- Negotiating legal rights for or responsibilities on behalf a person
- Speculating on the outcome of the case
- For a client, selecting or filling out particular forms
Specific legal advice questions may include:
- Should I file bankruptcy?
- Do I qualify for federal aid because of my disability?
- What kind of compensation can I get for my accident?
What Legal Advice Is Not
Legal advice is specific, direct and recommends a course, but legal information is factual and generic and does not address any particular cause. Sites and individuals will often clarify the meaning of any information found on their websites. This is to avoid confusion associated with legal information.
Examples of that are not legal advice
Access legal information online for free, including from an attorney’s or law firm’s website
- Recommendations from family members, friends, or former clients
- Information that you hear on the radio
- Information that you find on social media websites
- Information you find in news periodicals and on billboards
Answers to legal questions that are posted on online Q&A boards can be provided even if they have been answered by a licensed attorney
List of printed materials in a “howto” guide
Specific legal information questions might include:
- What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
- What is my state’s BAC for drunk driving?
- What are the gun laws of my state?