Why is it illegal to give your opinion/advice about a legal problem or case if you are not licensed or do not have a lawyer/client contract?

Findlaw - What is Legal Advice page says it's ok if you are just a friend, or if you give general information but not to a specific case.

The reason I am asking is because as I look at it for the first time, it sounds a bit in contradiction with the principle of free speech, or the right to engage in a free non-binding exchange of opinions.

If the main reason is that you may be "dangerously wrong", why isn't the same logic applied to every other aspect of life like cooking, how to fix the foundation of your house.. etc? Putting wrong ingredients in your recipe can poison you. A weak foundation may cause your house to collapse and kill you.


Why do many explanations about the meaning of "legal advice" include representing someone in court? To me, an advice is more like giving someone an opinion than actually doing something for them.

  • Questions about "why such law?" might be adorable but they are off-topic here. On-topic questions are "what the law is?". Try this on Politics.SE (the answer is likely to be the same as why not everyone is allowed to work as a doctor + the fact that laws are written and often lobbied by lawyers (especially laws about who can provide legal advice) and they just don't want everyone share what they earn).
    – Greendrake
    Feb 20, 2019 at 2:49
  • Voting to close as opinion based and off-topic here. Feb 20, 2019 at 3:07
  • Should I delete the question and post it on politics.SE?
    – Alex Doe
    Feb 20, 2019 at 4:15
  • 3
    I disagree that this is opinion-based. Certainly, knowledgeable and reasonable people could disagree over to what extent various factors (e.g., the requirement that someone providing legal advice actually have legal knowledge vs. self preservation efforts on the part of the legal community in general) play into the answer, but the reasons themselves (and there are more than the two mentioned above) are not subjective interpretations of ambiguous provisions.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 20, 2019 at 6:01
  • 2
    The question seems on topic to the extent that it asks about the conflict with free speech; the constitutional question is certainly part of law.
    – D M
    Feb 20, 2019 at 11:37

4 Answers 4


Why is everyone afraid to give “legal advice”?

  1. It may be illegal to give legal advice if you are not authorised to do so by the regulator. In New Zealand, providing legal advice without being a lawyer may result in a fine up to NZ$50,000.
  2. The person who received the advice could later claim damages for wrong/bad advice. They may not necessarily succeed in this claim but headache is guaranteed.

What is the difference between legal advice and personal opinion?

Largely depends on the jurisdiction, wording of the corresponding laws and circumstances of the advice/opinion.

why isn't the same logic applied to every other aspect of life like cooking, how to fix the foundation of your house.. etc? Putting wrong ingredients in your recipe can poison you. A weak foundation may cause your house to collapse and kill you.

The question "why" is not really supposed to be answered on this site. But because I am giving answers to the two questions above, I will comment on this one too:

Laws are written by lawyers. They are often lobbied by lawyers too, especially laws about lawyers and who can give legal advice. Lawyers are directly interested in limiting general public access to the market of legal advice: it simply makes their job more comfortable and highly paid.

  • 3
    Your last comment is slightly harsh on lawyers - many professions and trades require licences and they didn’t draft the laws. E.g. doctor, dentist, architect, plumber, electrician etc.
    – Dale M
    Feb 20, 2019 at 20:14
  • 4
    @DaleM I can give medical advice to my friends/family if I don't charge for it, but I can't represent them in court for free because harsh lawyers have made this illegal. Architects/electricians etc. is a different story: badly built houses endanger everyone in/near them, not just the owners. Badly given legal advice only endangers the advice taker, so the law makers should not have taken away his right to choose anyone to represent him in court, at least for free. Especially if they gain from taking this right away.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 20, 2019 at 23:00
  • In the US isn't it mostly a fear of being sued, and lowering income?
    – ZeroPhase
    Jul 14, 2021 at 1:28

Note that this depends on the jurisdiction. In , it is not illegal to give legal advice other than in specific cases.

Reserved and non-reserved legal activities

Section 14(1) of the Legal Services Act 2007 provides that you need to be entitled to carry out "reserved legal activities". Entitled here means that are either authorised or exempt in accordance with section 13.

Section 12(1) provides:

In this Act “reserved legal activity” means (a) the exercise of a right of audience; (b) the conduct of litigation; (c) reserved instrument activities;(d) probate activities; (e) notarial activities; (f) the administration of oaths.

Section 12(3) defines legal activities as (emphasis added):

(a) an activity which is a reserved legal activity within the meaning of this Act as originally enacted, and (b) any other activity which consists of one or both of the following (i) the provision of legal advice or assistance in connection with the application of the law or with any form of resolution of legal disputes; (ii) the provision of representation in connection with any matter concerning the application of the law or any form of resolution of legal disputes.

So, legal advice is a legal activity but not a reserved legal activity and as a general rule can therefore be carried out without authorisation.

This general rule is subject to a couple of exceptions.

Immigration advice

Section 84(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides that "no person may provide immigration advice or immigration services unless he is a qualified person." In this context, giving general advice is fine; it's giving advice which relates to a particular individual in relation to certain types of immigration matters (e.g. asylum claims, citizenship applications) which is prohibited. See the definition of "immigration advice" and "relevant matters" in section 82(1) for more details.

There are exceptions to this exception (i.e. circumstances in which you can give immigration advice without being qualified) as set out in section 84(4)(d) and various secondary legislation passed in accordance with that section, but none of them are likely to be relevant to an average layperson.

Claims management activities

Certain types of legal advice are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Section 19(1) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 provides:

No person may carry on a regulated activity in the United Kingdom, or purport to do so, unless he is (a) an authorised person; or (b) an exempt person.

Section 22(1B) provides that:

An activity is also a regulated activity for the purposes of this Act if it is an activity of a specified kind which (a) is carried on by way of business in Great Britain, and (b) is, or relates to, claims management services

Section 22(5) provides that "'Specified' means specified in an order made by the Treasury". Articles 89F(1) and 89H - 89M of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regualted Activities) Order 2001 provide that "advising a claimant or potential claimant" is a specified activity in relation to the following:

  • Personal injury claims
  • Financial services or financial product claims
  • Housing disrepair claims
  • Claims for a "specified benefit" (see Article 89(f)(2)(f) for what this means)
  • Criminal injury claims
  • Employment related claims

Exceptions exist (subject to various conditions) for legal professionals, charities, and other categories again not likely to be relevant for average laypersons.

Note that "carried on by way of business" above means that it is legal to give claims management advice to your friend or relative etc. so long as you are not doing so commercially.

Other considerations

Just because you can give legal advice doesn't necessary mean that you should. There is a lot that can go wrong for a layperson who (perhaps after some Google research) may believe they understand the law. Professionals maintain expensive subscriptions to databases such as Westlaw and Practical Law in order to fully research their topics of expertise, including all relevant statutory provisions and case law. The law is constantly evolving and what was good law yesterday can be reversed by a new statute or a higher court. The legal databases are kept up to date in a way that is almost impossible for a layperson to achieve by themselves. While free alternatives exist such as BAILLI for cases and https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ for statutes, the former has a lot of gaps and the latter contains many out-of-date provisions which have subsequently been amended or repealed but not updated on the site. I'm not aware of any free resources (for English law) which are of a high enough quality for a professional to rely on.

If you're giving legal advice commercially as a non-qualified person, then you are probably dealing with consumers as your clients (since businesses are more likely to want someone profesionally qualified). Sections 49(1) and 57(1) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 provide that "every contract to supply a service is to be treated as including a term that the trader must perform the service with reasonable care and skill" and "a term of a contract to supply services is not binding on the consumer to the extent that it would exclude the trader's liability arising under section 49 (service to be performed with reasonable care and skill)."

In my view you are unlikely to be able to provide legal advice with reasonable care and skill unless at a minimum you have some legal training and access to up-to-date databases. It's certainly possible to do that without being legally qualified - that's what the paralegal profession is.

  • Is "you should engage an immigration lawyer" unlawful immigration advice?
    – phoog
    Aug 27, 2021 at 19:29

Practice of law is a regulated industry, just like the practice of medicine, engineering, auctioneering, real estate, fire sprinkler system contractors, embalming, barbering, architecture and acupuncture. The fundamental rationale for such regulations is to "keep everyone safe". It's not that you cannot stick needle in to yourself or into friends, it's that you can't make a business of it. The history of business regulation is long and not particularly germane to Law SE.

The inclusion of law in the set of regulated industries is not capricious: it is founded on the correct observation that there are right and wrong ways to engage in the trade, and the degree of harm that might result from incompetent application of the art is rather high in the case of law, compared to geology (which is also a regulated industry, at least in Washington).

Whether or not it is illegal to give an opinion about a legal question remains to be seen. In Washington, unlicensed practice of law does not preclude telling people what you think the law says.

  • 1
    It's not just about making a business of it. One cannot represent their friend or even family member in court for free unless they are a lawyer (at least in New Zealand).
    – Greendrake
    Feb 20, 2019 at 6:41
  • Legal advice generally involves applying the law to a particular set of facts and/or recommending that someone take action based upon your opinion regarding the state of the law.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22, 2019 at 3:44

Why is it illegal to give your opinion/advice about a legal problem or case if you are not licensed or do not have a lawyer/client contract?

The official "reason" is consistently articulated by U.S. courts:

Protection of the members of the lay public of our State, when they seek legal advice — and that is what defendant purported to furnish — is the basis of the requirements of licensing of attorneys by the State, and this protection must be deemed to embrace whatever kind of law or legal rights the layman seeks advice on


The reasonable protection of those rights, as well as the property of those served, requires that the persons providing such services be licensed members of the legal profession


And all of this with but one purpose in view and that to protect the public from ignorance, inexperience and unscrupulousness

Again, that is the "official" answer or "reason".

However, it is naive to pretend that licensed membership effectively protects the public from ignorance, inexperience and unscrupulousness. Lawyers will give me downvotes for saying this, but many instances of legal malpractice and incompetence are not duly sanctioned, let alone reversed. Oftentimes a layman just wants to be done with his legal troubles, and therefore he will not even report any unscrupulous lawyer(s) who got involved in his matter. The public knows that, and so do the lawyers.

Furthermore, nowadays legislative provisions, rules of procedure, court decisions, and law journals are available online for free. Thus, a person who is neither illiterate nor functionally illiterate has the ability to verify the accuracy of the "advice" provided to him. Becoming well-versed in legal doctrines and hermeneutics does not happen overnight, but it is definitely more feasible than members of the legal "profession" are willing to admit.

The ulterior motive is as pointed out in the last sentence of Greendrake's answer. The legal "profession" becomes less profitable if more people become knowledgeable enough to prescind from a lawyer. An informed, verifiable advice on the person's problem can provide that person a starting point toward prescinding from attorneys, or at least give him elements with which to filter out some incompetent ones.

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