Could there be a Chill in the Air?

Along with the now-chilly fall weather it seems there is also a chill on giving free online legal information.  The Canadian Bar Association recently sent out its "Guidelines for Ethical Marketing Practices Using New Information Technologies" to all its members (Canadian lawyers).  These guidelines are just that, guidelines, as David Canton
of reminds lawyers.  The Canadian Bar Association does not make rules about what lawyers can and cannot do: that is up to provincial law societies that regulate the legal profession.  However, the CBA is a highly influential organization made up of lawyers.  We’re hoping that the guidelines do not scare lawyers away from offering to help people understand the law and legal system in Canada.  Of course we agree that it is not ethical or wise for a legal professional to give a legal opinion based on the few facts that a person gives in an online post; and that he or she should only give general guidelines of steps the anonymous poster might want to take to solve their legal problems.  We also accept that it is not possible to answer some questions posted on our forum because some people really need to consult with a lawyer face-to-face in certain situations.  However, helping someone to understand the legal process and their rights and obligations under the law can never be a wrong thing to do.  Often, just hearing from a lawyer or judge on our forum helps people.  People are genuinely surprised that lawyers and judges would do this sort of thing.  Even if the advice is, "you must consult with a lawyer right away," people are left with impression that our legal profession is made up of helpful, caring people that aren’t just out to make money–they’re out to make a difference.  In our opinion, giving advice or information online, where the legal professionals identify themselves as being qualified to do so, is a good thing and is not something to be afraid of.  After all, wouldn’t our legal system be the laughing stock of the world if a lawyer could be sued successfully or punished by their law society for offering legal information or advice on our forum to an anonymous poster in exchange for nothing other than the pleasure of helping someone in dire need of legal understanding and education?  It’s time for the legal profession in Canada to really get into the online world and stop being afraid of it.  Is there really a difference between advising and explaining the law to someone you’ve just met on the golf course, and doing the same online?  We don’t think so.  It’s time for the legal profession to open up and help the general public to understand how our very complex legal system works.  In fact, in an ironic turn of events (since the CBA is the author of these guidelines), the president of the CBA just this year stated that lawyers share the responsibility for improved access to justice in this country.  There are so many opportunities for lawyers, judges and law students to make the most of their elite education by helping to improve access to justice and legal understanding, offline and online.  The AdviceScene legal forum is one new way to do that and we hope that lawyers, judges, law students, and other legal professionals will continue to answer questions about the law well into the future.  We’re on to something and we hope that legal professionals will not be scared off by far-fetched lawsuit & disciplinary scenarios that would likely never happen.  The Canadian legal forum is about sharing legal information and expertise–democratizing the law. We hope we will continue to have the co-operation of legal professionals that are not completely scared off by these guidelines.

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