The internet makes a wide range of legal sources available at your fingertips. A growing number of firms, organizations, and federal agencies publish laws, regulations, case law, and legal commentary in an accessible and user-friendly manner. Many organizations also host “question and answer” forums discussing applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures in various legal forums. Anyone – regardless of their education, location, wealth, or status – can access these legal resources via a simple Google search.
In this context, it is often tempting to gather as much information as you can freely access on the internet and rely on this information as legal advice. Many blogs and “question and answer” forums facilitate such reliance despite disclaimers (i.e. “do not rely on this information as legal advice”) that I imagine do not always dissuade a reader from relying on it exactly as legal advice.
There is good reason for such disclaimers – a blog is not an attorney. A blog cannot listen to you, assess your specific situation, and provide you the personalized legal advice you may need. Just as there are times when you need a doctor, not WebMD, there may be a time when you need to actually consult with an attorney.
In addition to the experience and expertise an attorney can provide her client, even the most intelligent should be careful when giving themselves legal advice. It is particularly difficult to remain objective while developing a legal strategy when your personal interests are at risk. Many of us can provide good advice to others in stressful situations – it is much harder for us to give it to ourselves. This is especially true if you are knowledgeable in the subject matter at issue. It is difficult to distinguish between an emotionally satisfying defense and an objectively prudent course of action, which are not always the same thing.
Not every conflict requires counsel, and retaining counsel can be a stressful experience. But when you need it, do not substitute a blog’s impersonal text for a privileged communication with an experienced personal attorney.