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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.

Edit:

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 at 2:49
  • Voting to close as opinion based and off-topic here. – David Siegel Feb 20 at 3:07
  • Should I delete the question and post it on politics.SE? – Alex Doe Feb 20 at 4:15
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    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 at 6:01
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    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 at 11:37
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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.

  • 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 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 at 3:44
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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.

  • 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 at 20:14
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    @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 at 23:00
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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 through 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 not 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 of 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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