In seeking legal information or advice, there are many resources at your disposal. In the age of the Internet, the number of choices can be simultaneously liberating and overwhelming. The following points should help you narrow down the sources of information you seek and determine what will be suit your specific situation.
1) Legal Information Is Helpful, but It Is Not Advice
“Legal information” is simply a statement of what the law is, rather than an application of the law to a specific factual situation.
“Legal advice” refers to information an attorney gives after applying his or her legal expertise to your specific set of facts, and then telling you how you could proceed. Nobody except an attorney is qualified to give legal advice. If a non-attorney, such as a law student, paralegal, offers to give you legal advice, you should immediately decline.
If you are unsure as to whether you require legal advice or simply legal information, and the matter is not urgent, you should probably seek legal information first. If the conversation looks like it is headed into an area where legal advice might be needed, whoever you are speaking with should let you know that they are not qualified to give you legal advice, and will suggest that you contact an attorney.
If the matter is urgent or time-sensitive, it is probably best to find an attorney right away. In such a situation, the worst that can happen is that you end up not requiring the attorney’s services. If, however, you delay in consulting with an attorney when you need one, the consequences can be far more serious: you may even lose rights you otherwise would have had.
2) When in Doubt, Consult an Attorney
One of the first things you may do is ask yourself if you need to consult with an attorney. Most attorneys bill for their time, making it useful to know when consulting with an attorney is necessary and when it is not. Quite simply, while the Internet can be informative, if you do some research and feel your situation may carry serious consequences, you should stop your own research, directly contact and consult with an attorney immediately. Choosing the right one can seem daunting, but it is one of the most important steps.
3) Pick an Attorney to Consult by Their Practice Area
Your state bar association should have lists of every defective products attorney licensed to practice in your state, and may further divide them by practice area. Many state bar websites also have links to licensed attorney referral services. Using one of these services, you can be certain that any attorney to whom you are referred is not only properly licensed and in good standing, but probably experienced in handling the type of situation you are facing.
4) If You Decide You Do Not Need an Attorney, You Should Still Educate Yourself
There are many organizations that provide legal information and other types of legal aid for little or no cost. Services such as “Law Help” maintain national lists of organizations providing free legal aid, divided by the type of legal question, and locality. This type of database allows you to easily find free and relevant legal aid in your area.