What Is Legal Advice?
Legal advice is when an authorized professional in the field of law, such as an attorney, gives their opinion about a certain legal situation you may be in. To be able to do this, they will likely ask you pertinent questions about your situation, possibly consult law books and previous case settlements, look up federal, state, or municipal regulations, and may even get the advice of their colleagues. It's important for a lawyer to understand your particular case completely before offering legal advice.
Every situation and individual is unique, even if similar to another case, so a lawyer who specializes in the specifics of your case, such as business, real estate, juvenile, or personal injury, will be your best bet when trying to obtain legal advice. These attorneys will be best able to answer your question and represent you should you need to open up a civil or criminal case.
In short, legal advice:
- Is written or oral counsel to a client by an attorney who is licensed and has applicable knowledge, experience, and education.
- Will affect your legal rights or responsibilities, because you have now disclosed your potentially private situation to another person.
- Gives the attorney you are consulting with their own set of rights and responsibilities. They have the responsibility to give you the best legal advice they can or refer you elsewhere if they aren't the best person to help. In some cases, even if there is attorney-client privilege, a lawyer may have to report what they hear to law enforcement. For example, if your case involves a situation where death or serious injury can occur, your attorney probably has a legal responsibility (depending on the state you're in) to disclose that to the appropriate people.
- Provides a course of action that you should take as the client that's very dependent on your situation.
- Uses specific laws and your special circumstance to provide a resolution or a direction.
Legal Information vs. Legal Advice
When looking for legal advice, you may see sources that claim to provide legal information, which is not the same thing. Here are the main differences between the two:
- Legal information: Legal information is more generic, not specific to any case, factual, and more about a court's process, records, and rules. Anyone can provide legal information, even if they aren't an attorney. Legal information is usually readily available to the public, so any individual can do their own research to find what they need.
- Legal advice: Only an attorney or judge can provide legal advice to someone, whereas anyone familiar with some facet of the legal system may be able to provide legal information.
The difference between legal information and legal advice is so important that many law firms and sole practitioner attorneys have a disclaimer on their website. This disclaimer may state that the contents of their website do not constitute legal advice and that an appropriate consultation must be scheduled or an attorney-client relationship established to receive legal advice.
Why Getting Legal Advice Is Important
There are many ways to interpret the law, and especially when you are personally affected by a situation, emotions can run high. It's important not to take on anything potentially damaging yourself and, instead, allow an experienced professional to give you guidance on what you should do next.
You may be confused about your particular circumstances and feel that you're in the middle of something very complicated. However, you can ask an experienced attorney what you should do and have the confidence that they will be able to provide you with a trusted answer, breaking it down for you and turning your situation into a simpler one that's easy for you to understand.
Questions to Ask an Attorney When Getting Legal Advice
Here are some questions you may want to ask an attorney who you have approached for legal advice so you can feel comfortable in their position to provide the advice and represent you later on:
- Which laws apply to my case? Is it federal, state, or municipal?
- What is your area of expertise?
- How much experience do you have in cases similar to mine?
- How would you handle my case if I have you represent me?
- What do you charge for your service?
- Do you have a fee schedule?
- Will you be the attorney assigned to my case, or will I mostly work with your partners, paralegals, or legal assistants?
- Who is your typical client?
- Are there court alternatives to solving my situation, such as arbitration?
- What is the likely outcome of my case?
Where to Find Legal Advice
It may surprise you to learn that there are many resources at your disposal to get some legal advice for your situation. There are many places that low-income individuals and families can turn to for the advice they need because many attorneys take on pro bono legal aid work to provide guidance to those who cannot typically afford an attorney's consultation fees. Here are some other places you can turn:
- American Bar Association: The American Bar Association has a free virtual legal advice clinic where qualified users (typically low-income) can post their legal questions and get an answer from a volunteer attorney in their state. They provide this service without the expectation that you will engage them in long-term representation. The attorneys on this website will only answer questions related to civil court; any criminal cases will need to be discussed with a lawyer elsewhere.
- Law Help: This organization gives you guidance on finding free legal aid programs in your community. If you want to start off slowly, browse their publicly available information by topics such as family law, debt collection, and more.
- State Consumer Protection Office: This office helps the public resolve consumer issues in your state. They can help you advocate for your rights as a consumer, mediate complaints, and conduct investigations. However, they cannot represent you against a company.
- Law schools: It's common for local law schools to host free legal clinics that the public can attend. Law students are available to provide free legal help, and they are always supervised by law professors.
- Legal Services Corporation (LSC): LSC is a nonprofit that Congress established in 1974 to provide financial help to legal aid nonprofits throughout the nation so they can continue to provide services to their communities.
- Reddit: Reddit is an online discussion platform and forum with a popular subreddit at r/legaladvice that's operated by a team of moderators. While the forum specifically states that the moderators are not actually giving legal advice, this may be a place you can turn to to get started.
There is also legal advice available to specific groups. Veterans and enrolled military members can get help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Americans with disabilities can contact the National Disability Rights Network, seniors may find legal services specifically for eldercare, and those with a pension can contact the Pension Rights Center for guidance.
If you're on public benefits such as welfare, food stamps, social security, or Medicaid, you may be able to find legal help from organizations and individuals who volunteer to provide their services.
As you can see, legal advice is not something to take lightly. Whether it's drawing up a legal contract or finding an attorney to help you with a civil dispute, it's important to speak with someone who has the license and professional experience you need.