The terms legal information, legal advice and free legal advice are often misused and can be confusing.
In Ontario, Canada, for example, the Law Society of Ontario is the regulatory body for lawyers and paralegals alike. All Canadian provinces and U.S. states have their own bodies that regulate, license, and discipline lawyers and paralegals in that province/state. Only a licensed lawyer can give good legal advice or practice law in family law matters in Ontario. Illegal practitioners practice law, provide legal services or provide legal advice (sometimes even free legal advice) to the public without a license.
However, whenever someone other than a lawyer tries to give legal information, lawyers are all up in arms over it and try very hard to assert their authority and threaten those providing information.
Illegal practitioners may not understand the difference between legal information and legal advice. Providing legal information is not the same as giving legal advice or offering legal services without a license.
The Objective of Legal Information
Legal information illustrates the law and the legal system in broad terms, and it does not provide suggestions about what course of action would best suit the facts of the case and what the person wants to attain.
Legal advice aims to explain, in general terms, how a particular characteristic of the law is intended to work.
In today’s day and age, you can find legal information practically all over the internet and in various forms.
Some examples of furnishing legal information that does not constitute legal advice are:
- Legal information obtained from any online website, not only from a lawyer’s website;
- Suggestions from friends, family members, or former clients of a lawyer;
- Information you hear on the radio or see on television, even on the news;
- Particulars you see on social media;
- Content read on blogs and newsletters;
- Details you obtain through podcasts;
- Information you receive through webinars and seminars;
- Replies to legal questions posted on online groups and forums;
- Printed materials listed for information only; and
- Legal self-help forms.
What Exactly Is Good Legal Advice?
Advice from friends or family is not considered legal advice. Accurate legal advice forms an agreement between a lawyer and their client based on the family law matter that the client is going through.
In short, legal advice has the following characteristics:
- It requires the legal knowledge, skill, education, training, and assessment;
- It involves applying specific laws to a particular set of circumstances in a case;
- It affects someone’s legal rights or responsibilities; and
- It creates obligations for the person giving the advice.
Legal advice suggests a specific course of action a client should take in their matter, whereas legal information tells someone how to do it.
Here are some examples of what legal advice may look like:
- Drafting legal court documents or agreements that affect a person’s legal rights (note that this is not the same as administratively preparing a legal or court document based on what the client has drafted, i.e., typing or preparing the document. A mediator may prepare a Separation Agreement administratively based on what was decided in mediation by the parties; however, the parties involved need to use due diligence and have lawyers review it before the parties sign it, as the agreement cannot be relied upon as legal advice);
- Representing a person before a court;
- Negotiating legal rights or obligations on behalf of an individual;
- Presuming an outcome of a case; and
- Filling out specific forms on behalf of an individual.
Should You Rely on Legal Information?
No, you shouldn’t. Here are some reasons why:
- Legal information changes rapidly. Legislation and laws vary constantly, and new court cases are setting precedents.
- Legal information isn’t tailored to your circumstances. Legal information is general in nature, whereas legal advice is specific to the facts of your case.
- Legal information is innately subjective. Legal information is one person’s understanding of the law. As with any debate, that person may be analyzing the law one way, but someone else may decipher it entirely differently.
Although legal information and legal advice seem similar, you must note that most websites, whether they belong to a lawyer, a business, a bank, a government agency, etc., are accompanied by disclaimers like, “The information on this website is for information purposes only and is not legal advice.” If this disclaimer appears, you should not rely on the information without seeking independent legal advice.”
You Can Provide Legal Advice to Yourself.
You can rely on free legal information without paying for legal advice; however, you should be cautious as the information may be inaccurate or outdated.
What Do You Need?
Do you need legal information or legal advice?
Think about what is at stake. With family law matters in particular, what’s at stake may be extremely important such as parenting time or equalization. Retaining a lawyer may be the best choice if you have a lot to lose.
Do you go for the Lexus or the Toyota?
It is up to you to determine if the expense is worth it.