Why I Don’t Give Impromptu Legal Advice Over the Phone
Many people, who are not my clients, call my office, and have “a few quick questions” and want legal advice immediately.
I almost never give quick, impromptu answers to legal questions from people who are not already clients. This is for the caller’s benefit, more than for mine. Here’s why:
Most legal questions, that people have, touch on complex legal issues that cannot be answered without a great deal of research. Many clients, who think that there is a simple answer to their question, do not realize how complex their legal situation is.
To give a client a satisfactory answer, I usually have to make an appointment with the client, review all the facts and documents in the client’s case, and likely do several hours of legal research.
If I give a brief, spur-of-the-moment, answer, over the phone, my advice most likely would be wrong, and my bad advice would harm the client. There are many incidents where lawyers have given quick legal advice and, the flawed advice harmed the client. There are other reasons that I don’t answer brief questions over the phone:
1. If I give a person legal advice, then, legally, that person becomes my client. If the legal advice is wrong, the client can sue me for malpractice, or file a bar complaint against me.
2. If a person is my client, because I have given them a brief answer over the phone, this could create a potential conflict of interest. I then would be barred from taking a case against the person who called me.
3. Admittedly, my law practice is a business, and it doesn’t pay for me to give free legal advice to people who call on the phone and have “a few quick questions.” This is no different, though, from most other businesses: Most businesses do not give free assistance to anyone who asks for it. I recently called my doctor’s office, and before they answered the phone, I heard a recording that said, “We don’t give medical advice over the phone.”
Remember, though, that you get what you pay for. As I said above, if I were to give free legal advice on the spur of the moment (rather than do the necessary research) my advice most likely will be wrong, and would harm you.
If you need legal assistance
If you are looking for legal advice, keep the following two points in mind when talking to any lawyer:
1. Be suspicious of any lawyer who does give you quick answers to legal questions. If a lawyer thinks that he can give you quick legal advice, he probably either a) does not understand the complexity of your situation, or b) does not grasp his own legal ineptitude or c) both. You should prefer to have a lawyer who does a thorough research job, than lawyer who gives you an immediate answer.
2. If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer for his time, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) gives free or low-cost legal assistance to low-income people who qualify. LASO has offices in counties throughout the state. Contact a legal aid office near you, and see if they will help.
There’s also a website, Oklahoma Free Legal Answers. You can ask legal questions on this site, and they have a corps of volunteer attorneys who may be able to answer you for free. In order to qualify for this service, you have to have an income below a certain threshhold.
You might also try calling the Boesche Legal Clinic at the University of Tulsa Law School. This legal clinic, staffed by TU law students, also gives free legal help to certain low-income persons. They only take a limited number of clients, and they only take certain types of cases. Don’t be deterred by the fact that law students will be working for you. These law students work under the supervision of law professors, and the professors are very experienced in the area of law in which they supervise. Also, the law students generally only handle a few cases (or one case) per semester, as opposed to lawyers who often handle many cases while they are handling your case. So, a law student at the legal clinic generally has more time to devote to your case than a lawyer does. I worked in the Boesche Legal Clinic when I was a student at TU law school, and I can personally vouch for the superior quality of their work and their representation.