03 August 2013

When you ask me legal questions, sometimes I say "no." This is why.

Updated January 2017.

Many people who know I'm a lawyer ask me legal questions. Sometimes I can't answer them, even if they seem benign. I'm writing this post to explain why I sometimes say "no."

(To be clear, this post is not aimed at anyone specific.)

I get a fairly consistent stream of legal questions. Typical among them are family law questions about divorces or child custody disputes. My answer to these questions is pretty much the same: talk to a lawyer.

There are three reasons why I can't give you an answer.

First, the rules of professional responsibility (yes, even lawyers have such rules) say so. While you might think that asking a question of a lawyer doesn't make you a client and me your lawyer, such a relationship could be inferred, especially if you rely on my advice in making a decision about your case. For you, this could result in a bad decision in your case. For me, it could result in me being disciplined and potentially suspended from the practice law. Harsh. But that's reason enough for me to be cautious.

Second, chances are that, in your divorce and/or child custody issue (to revisit the same example), you might know more about the law in that regard than I do. I haven't even taken a family law class. Also, the law varies from state to state. The law in Maryland is not necessarily the law in your state. I am competent to do legal research, but this doesn't mean that I am at all qualified to give you what might be regarded as legal advice. Would you ask a first year medical student to perform an unsupervised operation on you? I hope not.

Third, even though I am a lawyer and potentially even qualified in the area of law in which you seek assistance, it is unlikely that I would give you free legal advice. I did not spending four years of my life, in addition to a full-time job, to become a lawyer just so that I can provide free legal advice over the Internet. Even if you're a friend. I don't mean this to sound harsh, because it really isn't. But just like you're trying to make a living, I am too.

By all means, I enjoy trying to answer your hypothetical legal questions, so keep asking them! I'm happy to spend my time doing legal research and figuring out answers to complex problems. In fact, feel free to continue asking me legal questions of any sort. I'll try to give you an answer, if I can. But when these issues become too close to real-life problems, I have to step back. And now you know why.
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