“Hey, you’re an attorney! I have a question for you!”

If you have a law degree, that’s probably a familiar statement. You likely hear it from time to time from close family members, distant family members, neighbors, friends, friends of friends and casual acquaintances alike. Even when you aren’t facing someone directly, you may find yourself being peppered with questions via text, email and other forms of electronic communication.

Naturally, you don’t want to appear like a snob who can’t be bothered to answer a simple question from a friend or neighbor — except there are some very good reasons attorneys need to learn to extract themselves from these kinds of situations as gracefully (and quickly) as possible:

  1. You could inadvertently be creating an attorney-client relationship with the person asking the question. This is true even if you lack a contract, and no money has been paid.
  2. You could be creating a situation where you could be charged with malpractice. You’re answering a question blind — without full access to all the facts. If the questioner reasonably relied on your answer, that could put you in hot water with the Bar.
  3. It’s very unfair to your clients. If your legitimate clients call you up and take twenty minutes of your time with a “few simple questions,” what would you do? You’d bill them for your time — and rightly so! Giving free advice to your neighbor shortchanges your paying clients and is unethical.

So how do you sidestep these kinds of situations? Frequently, you can avoid the situation by saying something like, “This isn’t the appropriate place to discuss confidential matters. If you’d like to make an appointment to discuss your situation, we can.”

Alternately, if you’d rather not get involved at all or the issue your friend or relative is facing is outside of your area of experience, offer to refer him or her to someone else.

For more information about protecting your professional license, please continue exploring our site.