How to Give Legal Advice at Social Gatherings

Protect your friendships from legal bias.

Between succulent bites of ham and sips of eggnog, the holidays are typically spent catching up with old friends and extended relatives. Though this time of year is full of many joyous occasions, get-togethers can be the perfect setup for giving casual, yet unintended, legal advice.

Your heart may be in the right place, but providing your legal expertise in a social setting has the possibility of causing more harm than good. Even if you want to help someone you personally know or deeply care about, you have to be careful about how you represent yourself and what you say.

Following these tips can help protect not only your career, but your friendships too.

Stick to What You Know

Giving legal advice outside your area of expertise can be dangerous. If a friend or family member asks you about a specific field you aren’t qualified in, make sure you clearly state you don’t know enough about it to provide legal guidance. Recommend that they meet with a qualified professional. Additionally, stay within your jurisdiction. Policies and statute of limitations differ from state to state.

Save Business Talk for Work Hours

If you are qualified to consult your friend or family member, tell them you’d love to help but they need to schedule a formal consultation to discuss the situation and your going rate. This will allow you to develop an appropriate attorney-client relationship and document every phase of the case. It’s important to just listen before a formal consultation is scheduled; don’t propose a course of action, as it can be mistaken as formal legal advice.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

If you’re helping someone you’ve known for years, make sure you’re still following your typical risk management procedures. If a close friend casually asks you for legal advice, document your conversation and follow-up in writing. Your friend may have interpreted your discussion in a different way. Reiterating the facts, what you advised, and the statute of limitations will provide you with documentation, should the conversation ever circle back around.

Keep Gossip to a Minimum

If a relative or friend is sharing a personal situation with you, keep the information to yourself. Just because the conversation took place at a party doesn’t mean it should be treated as gossip. When in doubt, consider it confidential even if you aren’t directly representing them.

Enjoy the Holiday

Being a law guru has its perks, but no one wants to spend their holiday answering legal question after legal question. Simply reminding your family and friends that you’re off the clock may help them realize that attorneys need a holiday break, too.

This article is for general information purposes only.

CITATIONS

Loeffler, Evan. “How to Avoid the Surprise Attorney-Client Relationship.” American Bar. American Bar, GPSOLO Jul./Aug. 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.

“What Is ‘Legal Advice’?” FindLaw. FindLaw, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.

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