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  1. I hire a lawyer for legal issue ABC.
  2. I post a request for specific legal advice on Law Stack Exchange about unrelated legal issue XYZ. I do not tell my lawyer about it; neither of us knows that the other uses Law SE or can identify each other's accounts.
  3. My lawyer answers my question, thinking he is giving legal advice to a non-client when he is actually answering a client's question.

Have I or my lawyer done anything illegal, other than violating Law SE's policies?

What if legal issue ABC is me suing my employer for wage discrimination because they're paying me less because of my religious belief that it's wrong to accept digital payments and that I should insist on a paper paycheck, and XYZ is me asking the best way to fight a traffic ticket issued because I did not stop at a stop sign that had been vandalized beyond recognition by my second cousin once removed, who I was supposed to be taking care of in loco parentis at the time of the vandalism?

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    This doesn't belong on Meta; I'm specifically asking about the law, not Law SE policies. Replace "Law SE" with "a random forum on the Internet" and the question doesn't change.
    – Someone
    Sep 1, 2022 at 5:34
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    Why do you think this might be illegal?
    – bdb484
    Sep 1, 2022 at 11:25
  • Did they bill you? Sep 1, 2022 at 14:05
  • @bdb484 wouldn't it be illegal for a lawyer to give legal advice to a non-client? (Maybe not; I'm not sure)
    – Someone
    Sep 1, 2022 at 15:46
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    @MichaelHall okay, thank you! I'll post that. This question was assuming the answer to that is no. I'm not sure why I assumed that; probably because it was 11 PM and I was tired when I asked this.
    – Someone
    Sep 1, 2022 at 16:40

2 Answers 2

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  1. My lawyer answers my question, thinking he is giving legal advice to a non-client when he is actually answering a client's question.

But if you read the FAQ, posts at law.stachexchange are not legal advice. In fact, questions that are so specific as to risk becoming a request for legal advice are routinely closed.

But let's go further:

  • The issue at hand is not the one your lawyer is hired to help you with. He is not your lawyer for that issue.

  • Even if we considered the relationship through law.stackexchange legal representation, the conversation would not be privileged. You are posting in a public forum, and expecting reply in the same way. You are free to waive the privilege of communication with your lawyer, and you are doing that by using this way of communicating with him.

  • At this point, the only thing your lawyer would have done would be voluntarily giving for free some info that he could have billed you for. What exactly would be the issue here? It is exactly what pro bono is for.

The only way to breach confidentiality would be if your lawyer were to convey things that you said to him confidentially to the public, but here it would not be relevant if the OPs author were already his customer or not.

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  • To "Have I or my lawyer done anything illegal, other than violating Law SE's policies?" I was going to answer with "No. The only applicable constraints pertain to the matter that underlies the attorney-client relation". But further elaboration would be redundant now that this answer (+1) has been posted. Therefore, I'm only highlighting that there is nothing illegal in the scenario as described by the OP. Sep 1, 2022 at 13:36
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Law.SE and forums are not privileged

You don't WANT your lawyer to answer your RSLA on a public forum, just like you don't want to have all your dirty laundry washed in public.

Lawyers may not discuss your laundry in public

Lawyers have ethical rules they need to follow. This includes them being banned from discussing your case with others in a non-privileged fashion. You can instruct him to, but he can't on his own. It is often bad for your case anyway.

Example

Let's assume Alice wants to sue her neighbor Bob after she found a land sale document she found in her attic, which claims that she might own a strip of 2 inches width on his side of the fence. All she has is that single document that gives an approximate size of the lot rounded to full feet. Before that and since then the lots have been marked down on the land register with a precision down to a quarter inch, from well-known measuring points. In other words, the claim is tenuous at best.

Alice reaches out to Larry Lawyer to represent her in the matter. He tells her that the document might be worth nothing as the things stand, especially since the sale contract indicates the lot from the register which had been up to date with more precision at an earlier date than the contract. But he agrees to fight the case for her as best he can.

The next day, Alice also makes posts about her plan to sue on many places on the internet. Larry Lawyer just happens to spot Alice's post with the above story. He realizes she is his client. Still, he writes down the legal advice he gave her the day before.

Larry just breached his duties as a lawyer. He also breached the stack's guidelines not to give legal advice. He also might have given away a lot of grounds for defending the case against dismissal or judgment on the merits.

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  • "banned from discussing your case with others in a non-privileged fashion" So, if I'm in a group of friends and I ask my lawyer to come and join us, and I start talking about my case, he's not allowed to comment until we're in a room alone ? Or would this real-life public gathering be considered privileged ? Sep 1, 2022 at 9:46
  • @Gouvernathor that is not a privileged fashion. Your lawyer might advise you to not talk about the topic, or just "no comment" unless you specifically instruct him to tell them.
    – Trish
    Sep 1, 2022 at 9:56
  • oh, so if I instruct him or tell him he can answer me in public internet forums (which is not the OP's example at all, I don't mean it's the same), there would be no breach of duty on his part ? Sep 1, 2022 at 10:02
  • @Gouvernathor he might but he won't want to - it could still be an ethical violation.
    – Trish
    Sep 1, 2022 at 10:17
  • (1) It is pointless to interject the premise that the lawyer "realizes she is his client" where the OP's scenario is that "neither of us knows that the other uses Law SE or can identify each other's accounts". (2) The OP's description neither suggests nor implies that the lawyer divulges "the legal advice he gave her the day before" regarding an unrelated matter. (3) The remark about defending the case is vague and questionable, which is why it warrants citing verifiable sources. Sep 1, 2022 at 13:22

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