One of my favorite things to read on the internet is legal advice. I don’t know why it fascinates me so much--it’s not like I need legal advice myself, at least not right now. But I find it super interesting how people can end up in these crazy, convoluted legal situations, and I’m amazed by the helpful advice they can get from experts online. Or, at least, I assume the advice is helpful--since I’m not a lawyer, I can’t really say I know for sure! In fact, one friend of mine was telling me recently that giving legal advice on the internet isn’t even legal. That seems a little absurd to me, but again, I’m no expert--which is why I’m asking the experts now. What’s the deal with online legal advice? Is it reliable? Is it even legal?
The internet is certainly full of fun and bizarre legal stories, as well as plenty of message boards and websites that purport to offer legal advice. Just look at Reddit’s popular r/legaladvice, which literally includes “legal advice” in its name. But is this advice sound, and are any laws or regulations being broken when it is offered?
Let’s start with what is probably the most important question: should you trust legal advice you get on the internet? Generally speaking, legal experts in Morristown, New Jersey told us, the answer is no: the only place you should get legal advice from is an attorney. Now, that’s not to say that every bit of legal information you find online is suspect. We’re discussing legal questions in this very article, and we’re not making things up as we go along. But there’s a big difference between an article from a trusted source and an anonymous post on an online message board, and you should treat sources of legal information with an appropriate amount of skepticism.
There’s also a very important distinction between legal information and legal advice. The legal information provided in this article includes some you can act on, and even some general suggestions: for instance, we emphasized that you should only get legal advice from an attorney, which is sort of a law-related suggestion. But when we start to look at legal advice tailored to specific situations, such as the hyper-specific analysis sometimes seen on forums like Reddit’s r/legaladvice, we start to get into murkier territory. And we’re not just saying that such legal advice can be dangerously unreliable (though we are certainly saying that as well): we’re also saying that it can itself be legally questionable.
That’s right: your friend wasn’t totally off-base! There are lots of rules and regulations regarding how lawyers and their clients can interact. That’s important for a number of reasons--after all, there’s such a thing as attorney-client privilege, and you can even sue attorneys for malpractice. Handing out legal advice just for the fun of it can quickly get attorneys in hot water, so they tend not to do it, even when they can do so anonymously on the internet. And non-attorneys are not allowed to act as lawyers, because they haven’t been licensed--so they can’t give legal advice, either.
It’s a bit of a blurry line, of course, and we’re not saying that SWAT teams are constantly knocking down the doors of folks who offer legal advice online. We’re also not saying that you can’t enjoy a few minutes checking out the bizarre stories and questionable advice you find on online forums. But if you ever run into a legal problem yourself, you’re going to want to speak directly to an attorney, advise personal injury lawyers that we spoke to. Take the time to set up a consultation and get real advice. You won’t regret it.
“Many receive advice; only the wise profit from it.” -- Harper Lee