Why lawyers are not jerks for refusing to give free advice
Many people call lawyers, hoping to get free advice. Often, they get told, it depends and I cannot give you advice unless you are a client. I understand this casts the profession in a poor light and makes it look like lawyers are simply out to extract dollars from your wallet. For me, there is a more fundamental reason I do not give free advice: often there is more than one right answer, and the best answer depends on a knowledge of all of the facts and, if I give bad advice, I can be sued for it.
It is not just the fear of being sued that prevents me from giving free advice, though. I also worry about the potential harm I could do to someone. Answers are often complicated and depend on many factors, such as where the case is, which direction the case is heading and who is the opposing counsel. If I give bad free advice that leads to a bad outcome, I can get sued for it.
I also believe that people who ask for free advice are not truly committed to following it. If someone is willing to pay for my advice, it shows that they are serious about taking my advice and are more likely to follow through with it. If you are serious about taking my advice, you should be willing to pay for it. However, since I am only taking certain kinds of cases, I would not want you to pay for my advice if I am not going to be representing you further. Therefore, if you are not my client, I cannot give you advice.
The best example I have is my cat, Caveat, and the question of whether I would advise you to give him treats. He wants to eat treats constantly. He could eat handfuls of treats multiple times of day. To him, treats include crackers and bread – both of which can make him ill if he eats too much – and treats should happen at least a dozen times a day in copious quantities. If you asked me for advice on giving Caveat treats, my answer would be maybe. It would depend how many times he has had treats that day, if he had been sick, and if he had been behaving. If you ask me how many treats he could have, the answer would again be dependent. It would depend on which treats you were giving him, if he had had those earlier in the day, and how many I have left. In other words, I can’t even advise you on giving my cat treats without knowing all the nuances, and if I won’t do that, then I certainly cannot advise about something more life altering than giving my cat treats.
The point of this anecdote is not to say that you can’t trust anyone for advice, but that you should be very careful in who you take advice from. Not everyone knows everything, and even experts can be wrong. So, before you do anything – whether it’s refinancing the house or dividing your retirement – retain the lawyer who will be by your side for the rest of the case. If you and your soon-to-be-ex are in agreements, then reach out to my office to see if I can help and adivse you.