I have engaged lawyers (who I have not dealt with before) to convey my property. New Zealand being "in lockdown" due to COVID19 has somewhat complicated the transaction. The advice I have received from my lawyers has been inconsistent due, I expect, to lack of case history and certainty.

After their providing guidelines/suggestions I was a bit surprised that the lawyer stated "As lawyers we are not permitted to advise you what decision to make and it is up to you which risk you see as the 'best'"

Is it legally correct that a lawyer is not permitted to provide advice on what decision to make (in New Zealand)? I'm just wondering if they have said this to 'cover their backs' and are dressing it up as a legal constraint?

  • Lawyers will always try to cover the ass - they could not afford their (mandatory, in most places) insurance if they didn´t. You know they are liable for advice they give you ...
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 11:18

1 Answer 1


There is a firm difference between giving advice on "what the best decision is likely to be" and "what decision to make".

The former is what lawyers must do, which comes from:

  • Conduct and Client Care Rules:

    Whatever legal services your lawyer is providing, he or she must—

    • discuss with you your objectives and how they should best be achieved:
    • give you clear information and advice:
  • Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006:

    legal work includes—

    • advice in relation to any legal or equitable rights or obligations:

So, there is nothing in the law that requires lawyers to advise you on "what decision to make". Instead, they explain to you the range of possible decisions and what ramifications / implications / consequences they have. They won't make the choice for you — it's always yours.

Is it legally correct that a lawyer is not permitted to provide advice on what decision to make

It is not strictly true that a lawyer "is not permitted". Rather, they are not obliged to do so. And they have a damn good reason not to: there is a huge difference between being responsible for legal facts based on which you make decisions, and being responsible for decisions themselves.

  • 9
    @NotThatGuy I can't see anything in the question which implies the lawyers advised on what was "best". Advising on the consequences of making alternative decisions is not the same thing as advising on which is "best". Suppose there are two options: take no legal action, which will result in a guaranteed loss of $10,000, or take some action, which has an estimated 10% chance of winning $1,000,000 in damages, but would cost $20,000 if it fails. Which is "best" depends entirely on the individual's attitude to risk, and their overall financial situation.
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 13:34
  • 3
    @NotThatGuy The difference is subtle in that the former phrasing leaves it totally up to the client to make a decision, whereas the latter sounds more like the lawyer's attempt to convince the client to make that decision. Should things go wrong after making that decision, the lawyer is safe with the former phrasing but not the latter.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 14:36
  • 4
    The way I (a lawyer) think about it is this: what I can do is tell you how the law works, i.e. if X happens, Y is the legal consequence, or if you do X then Y will be the legal consequence. But there are two things I don't know: (1) what will happen (eg what the weather will be or what governments will do) and you are in as good as position as me to assess that or (2) what you want. Only you know what you want. I can tell you what the chocolates taste like, but only you can decide which you like. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 21:03
  • What about things like criminal defense lawyers trying to convince their clients to dress well and behave politely in court?
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 4:33
  • 1
    @nick012000 I'd call that education, not legal advice.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 14:22

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