Legal Advice vs. Legal Information

For the public, the difference between legal advice and legal information may not be entirely clear; or even important.  But for lawyers the distinction is of paramount importance.  You see, lawyers have to be very careful about what kind of advice they give you.  They must be careful about telling you what to do, unless they are officially working for you.  Why?  Because lawyers have many rules to follow that are set down by the law societies, including whom they may give legal advice to.  Lawyers can provide you with information that anyone should be able to find out anyway; but unless they are your lawyer—and that means retained by you, they can not really tell you what to do in your situation.  All they can do is tell you about the law and how it applies to you—how you act on that information is up to you.  This is what is called ‘legal information,’ and that can be supplied by lawyers at a cocktail party or on an Internet forum, like

Proper legal advice on the other hand is advice that you get from a lawyer that is working for you; and that advice is meant to be relied upon.  However, no one should ever rely on any advice without researching their situation and even going so far as to get a second or third opinion.  I know that may sound a little too cautious but people should never rely on what someone else tells them to do just because that person has a professional degree.  Whether it be parenting advice, tax advice, or legal advice, buyer beware—we’re all just human and make mistakes all the time, even professionals, including lawyers.  Sometimes lawyers are completely wrong and other times they’re just wrong enough that it costs you money, custody of your kids, or even jail time.  Sure, lawyers are insured by their law societies in the case where they gave the wrong legal advice, but a successful law suit is little consolation when you’ve already lost your kids, paid a fine, or gone to jail.  So be careful when following anyone’s advice, including the advice of a lawyer.  Try your best to take responsibility for your situation by researching, asking questions, and being sceptical, because you are the one that stands to lose, not the person you’re taking advice from.  I don’t mean to offend lawyers—though you’d think that sometimes given these blog entries!  It’s just true that lawyers are only human and may not be entirely correct all of the time.

Nancy Kinney
Founder of AdviceScene
Democratizing the law one question at a time

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