(9) Be Wary of Taking Any Advice Given in an Initial Consultation
Everyone likes cheap or free advice, but that does not mean it should be taken. When you go in for an initial consultation do not expect to get any good advice. This is because when an attorney gives out legal advice he creates an attorney-client relationship. If the attorney’s advice is bad the attorney could potentially be liable to you for the mistake.
Imagine the following: you are a surgeon who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on your education, and many years educating yourself instead of working. Someone comes to you and asks how to remove an appendix. Will you tell them how to do it? Definitely not! Years of training, learning, and expertise went into knowing exactly how to remove an appendix, and even more went into dealing with complications that frequently arise from surgery. This information cannot be adequately transferred in just a few minutes.
On the other hand, if you asked a surgeon how to remove your own appendix and the surgeon was to tell you “oh, you just cut about two inches in this general area, and then pull it out, and sew it back up,” would you believe him? Would you do it? Finally, when it goes wrong, would you be mad at him? The procedure is certainly not that simple. Also, you shouldn’t attempt to do it yourself. Finally, you have a right to be mad at the surgeon if he or she told you the above and it went wrong, especially if you paid a one-time flat fee to ask that question.
Now, to liken this to the initial interview: an attorney has comparable training to what the surgeon went through in order to become a lawyer (a little less, because most states do not require the equivalent of a residency, but similar enough).
Similar to how complicated removing an appendix is, there are many nuances that affect every legal situation imaginable. One fact can change the outcome of an entire case. In a quick sit-down with an attorney, there is likely no way for the attorney to anticipate that one fact. Typically these facts arise from what opponents argue, which arguments will not be seen by the attorney unless he or she is completely involved in the case.
Additionally, for any good lawyer to be able to give you an accurate answer, the lawyer will have to do research (even if it is to simply “update” the law the lawyer knows). Research involves a substantial time commitment from an attorney, typically much more than most medical doctors perform. An attorney would need time to sit down and do the research prior to giving you an answer. It is true that an attorney may know the general principles and the general law as it applies to your situation, but general understandings of the facts will not likely be sufficient to justify a substantial amount of reliance on the attorney’s words.
Finally, if you get quick advice from an attorney and then when you try to do it yourself and mess up, you have a right to be angry. You might be angry enough to sue the attorney for malpractice in giving you the “wrong answer.” So, the attorney would be getting sued for giving the wrong answer for “just one question” that he or she gave an answer to for free or for cheap in an initial consultation. The situation above is what is going through an attorney’s mind during an initial consultation or a brief discussion, and this is why the attorney is reluctant to give advice during that initial consultation.
Most attorneys grimace when they hear someone asking a law student, a legal secretary, or a paralegal for legal advice. Not only are these people not legally or ethically allowed to give legal advice, they also do not likely know the law as it is in the state where you live (paralegal school and law school typically teach generalized principles and not the specific laws of any particular state). Think of it as asking a nurse or medical student how to remove your appendix. It is not worth the risk.
Before you take the advice from an attorney who is willing to give you advice during a brief meeting (or a legal secretary, paralegal, or law student), remember that you would not ask even a doctor how to remove your own appendix. The same goes for legal advice.