This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lawyerly Advice

Here's my lawyerly advice to those of you out there who are not attorneys, but have friends or family members who are attorneys and want to ask law questions/discuss your legal issues, OR are new/young attorneys out there just encountering this phenomenon:

1. It might not be my job, but it's still my job. Asking a lawyer for advice, even if that lawyer is your brother or your best friend, is a lot different than asking for advice on, say, how to make my Word document turn into a .pdf, even if it's just as simple and takes just as long. Like, if my computer shuts down and eats my document because someone told me how to do it wrong, there likely won't be a lawsuit or a bar complaint. I'm ethically on the hook for any advice I give you, casual or not. So it's on me to make sure it's sound.

2. Don't pass it around. So, the other night my mother had some random questions about immigration law. She's "curious" because a friend's nephew is apparently wanting to marry a woman who is in the country illegally, and she and her old biddy friends wanted to gossip about it. Mom thought he'd be committing a crime by marrying her and told the group of old biddies as much. Then she asked me. I told her (in basic terms) about immigration law (as much as I actually know). Not intending to be advice for this couple, of course. Then Mom calls up her friend and blabs everything to her, oh, my daughter the lawyer said he should do X Y Z. And of course, knowing that she wouldn't have possibly gotten the X Y Z right (as she proceeded to tell me what she told her friend), I had to then send a FB message to her friend to be like "I have no idea what unsolicited second-hand advice Mom may have given you, but here's the name of the best immigration lawyer in town. Your nephew should go see him immediately." So, my bad in thinking we were just speaking in hypotheticals. Like, I don't have all the facts here, I can't advise them.

3. Don't think just because it's your best friend or your brother, it still won't cause problems. Sometimes the personal relationship is the very reason it causes problems. So, understand that your friend/family member may not be the best person to ask about your legal problems. You're setting up a business and have some questions about Articles of Organization? Cool. You need a Will or Power of Attorney or some other standard form drafted? Cool. You just got arrested and you have a whole sordid criminal history no one else knows about and you want me to keep that a secret? Not cool. (Recently got mixed up in that one. Not fun.) You are divorcing your husband, some guy I barely know, and you have some questions or even want some help? Cool. You are divorcing your husband, and he happens to be a friend of mine? Totally not cool. Know the difference between what is cool and not cool before you ask.

4. There's no such thing as "just a quick question." Respect that an attorney's entire job is giving advice/doing research/drafting documents, so think of it like you would asking a friend to fix your car who's an auto mechanic. It's them, doing their job, extra, on their own time, for you, for free. Even so, I don't have a problem giving out legal advice, even free advice. But I can't devote a significant amount of time to it. In other words, get to the point as quickly as possible!

For instance, and this has happened several times over just this past week, someone calls or leaves a message and wants me to call them back regarding some legal question they have. What then happens is I call them back, and I end up in an hour-long conversation with that someone about it, especially if that person is a friend or a family member. Blah blah blah blah. What could have been a five or ten minute email response just ate an hour of my day. Why call instead of email? Well, because it takes the person asking a lot less time and effort to call and ramble at me than it does to form specific questions and write out the facts I need in order to give an opinion. And that's great if I'm charging you .25 minimum per phone call (and that's a quarter hour, not a quarter of a dollar). If you're getting free legal advice, put the time into helping me out by not eating up my time. Especially if we're at the point that I would actually have to take notes during the conversation in order to keep the facts straight and give an opinion. Just send me an email or Facebook message. That way I can read it while I'm sitting in court for five hours waiting for my case to be called and answer you then. I just cannot call you back. If your story is going to be so long and complex that you can't even fathom writing it out, then you can tell me over dinner (you're buying).

Also, I know this is surprising as I am all-knowing, but I may not even have an answer (or shit, I might have the wrong answer). I may need to think about it. I might even be inclined to look it up. I did a massive brain-purge after the bar exam, and I reserve that space for things like sci-fi trivia and song lyrics. I do not, for instance, recall the order of intestate inheritance. I just don't. It's like kids, parents, then some other people. I don't know. When someone asks me, you know what I do? I google it. "KRS intestate succession." Then I read the statute. Then I immediately forget. Because I really just don't do any probate. I have better uses for those brain cells.

5. Cocktail conversation is fine. To a point. Lawyers are nerds, we like to talk shop. If you have truly hypothetical questions, or you were watching an episode of Law & Order and want to discuss search and seizure, let's do it. If you have a lively story about your crazy neighbor who keeps passing out naked in your bushes, or this asshole who rear-ended you and turns out his insurance was expired, I will probably offer to take legal action on your behalf and, hey, let's get together and chat about this later. However, if you are going to bring down the entire party by telling your sad-sack story involving your sister's neighbor who is being abused by her husband, and then got fired from her job, and then all kinds of other drama.... eh, if your sister's neighbor wants my help, here's my card, have her make an appointment. My retainer is quite reasonable.

I know some lawyers who refuse to give free legal advice, like won't even give free consultations to prospective clients, let alone friends and family. I like to be able to help people, (and it would be really nice to make friends with an auto mechanic and trade services!) But also understand that, just like anything, it takes time, and appreciate that, just like when your friend comes over to remove the virus you got on your computer from downloading all that porn, your lawyer friend took time out of his day to give you advice. Buy him a beer for his trouble!*

* The preggo requests beer rainchecks.


Googie Baba said...

Honestly, I have gotten more experience helping my family out with their "hypothetical" problems than I have gotten at my job.

Colleen said...