In general, only a licensed attorney can give legal advice, but there is distinction between “legal advice” and “legal information.” Any non-lawyer can simply recite laws, but it is illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice or represent someone other than herself in a court of law. A licensed attorney is someone who receives a legal education and passes the state’s licensing exam, also known as the State Bar.
Legal advice is any written or oral counsel regarding a legal matter that impacts the responsibilities and rights of the person who receives it. It often requires knowledge of and careful analysis of the law. Giving legal advice is an essential function of a lawyer and equivalent to practicing law. Legal advice requires legal education and knowledge and impacts the recipient’s legal rights. It also creates an attorney-client relationship.
Some examples of legal advice include drafting legal documents or contracts that affect the rights of a person, representing someone in a court of law or in a legal matter, negotiating the rights of a client, and advising someone about specific legal matters.
With social media, there are a lot of outlets for people to receive legal advice. Some websites, including law firms’ personal web pages, allow you to ask legal questions. They often respond but also ask that you come into the office for a consultation.
Some cities offer free legal advice to certain individuals depending on the legal matter. For example, tenants in San Francisco can receive free legal advice from various legal aid services regarding landlord-tenant matters.
Of course, you can always seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.
Legal information, on the other hand, can be given by anyone who is knowledgeable on the law. It is simply a statement of what the law is, without any application to your particular situation, leaving up to you the decision of how to proceed. Given the costs associated with hiring a lawyer, it is good to know when you need legal advice, and when you simply need legal information.
Legal advice should be sought when you have a legal problem and do not know how to proceed. This could include filing a lawsuit, or being sued. Also, if you are faced with a contract which you do not understand, you may want to seek a lawyer to advise you of what the contract says, and how it might change your legal situation. Legal advice is very detailed and tailored to particular predicaments.
Legal information is indicated in many more situations. If you have a question of whether or not a certain act is legal in the abstract, without regards to your specific situation, legal information will probably suffice. Legal information is typically general and devoid of any application to a specific problem.
Not all legal advice requires payment. For instance, you may be eligible for free legal aid from a court-appointed attorney or public defender if you have been accused of a crime and face going to jail. You can also qualify for free legal aid if you are considered “indigent” as determined by a judge. Under indigent representation, you may have to eventually partially reimburse the court for the cost of legal services that are provided to you. There may also be free legal aid provided to you depending on the area of law. Certain websites can put you in touch with an attorney immediately to answer some basic questions for free, but they often require payment for more in-depth advice or answers to more complex questions.
If you need more help with your legal matter, you should contact a skilled and licensed attorney. An attorney can help you navigate through complex legal problems and advise you on the best course of action, whether it be litigation, informal settlement negotiations, or a settlement demand. If you are sued or believe you need to sue someone over a contested legal matter, an attorney can help you.