This is an extremely important topic. The legal community does not take kindly to dispensing legal advice. It is important to note the distinction between legal advice and legal information.
Legal advice is generally defined as the assessment and application of principles of law to a particular factual situation. There are many elements that can go into determining whether what is presented is legal advice. For example:
What Legal Advice Is Advice from friends or family does not constitute legal advice. True legal advice forms an agreement [the act of distributing the advice forms this 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 (not necessarily all of the following):
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 (based on specific facts)
- 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?
Legal Information is simply a statement of what the law is, without any application to your particular situation, leaving up to you the decision of how to proceed.
Legal information is indicated in many more situations. If you have a question of whether or not a certain act is legal in the abstract, without regards to your specific situation, legal information will probably suffice. Legal information is typically general and devoid of any application to a specific problem.
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?
As a law student and future attorney, my concern is with whether the question is specific to a person and concerned with actual consequences. (The resolution of this question will seriously impact whether I stay in this community.) Satisfying a curiosity is fine, but telling someone what their legal liability is in a specific situation very much not ok. I have seen arguments that people come here for answers so we should help them. Well, if we allow questions for legal advice, those will not get answers from lawyers, and can drive away members who might actually know how the courts interpret law. I do not think it would be helpful to anyone in this community if no attorneys answer questions.
I propose we adopt a rule similar to that on Christianity.SE.
On that site, they strictly limit requests for pastoral or spiritual advice. Similarly, here we should strictly limit requests for legal advice