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Legal Wisdom for All: Exploring the World of Free Legal Advice

Legal Wisdom for All: Exploring the World of Free Legal Advice

If you have ever asked anyone other than an attorney for free legal advice, you know all too well that they will inform you they are not allowed to provide legal advice, only general information. According to the American Bar Association’s rules on ethics, legal malpractice could occur in a variety of ways, including non-attorneys representing themselves as attorneys, giving out legal advice, or practicing law. Anyone who works in an attorney’s office, such as a secretary, is also subject to these rules. You need legal aid for a reason, so what is the difference between legal information and legal advice, and does it make a difference?

What is Legal Advice?

“Legal advice” is a phrase that lacks an agreed-upon definition. The ABA, as well as state laws, are in agreement that non-attorneys cannot offer legal advice, and doing so is tantamount to illegally practicing law. However, their views on where exactly the line lies between advice and information differ wildly. For example, if someone has a question about their specific case and their lawyer is unavailable, can a paralegal who works at the firm answer the question, or does the person need to wait to speak with their lawyer?

When attempting to define what constitutes legal advice, state laws tend to be vague. For instance, some states define practicing law as any assistance rendered involving legal advice or legal knowledge, which could be interpreted to mean that title agents, paralegals, and notaries technically “practice law.”

The provider is required to distinguish legal advice from legal information. A licensed lawyer who is in good standing with the bar is free to offer legal advice about a specific case. Anyone who is not may only offer legal information.

What is Legal Information?

Legal help or legal information is available through self-help clinics and legal aid organizations. Message boards and websites where lawyers respond to questions and offer their opinions are considered legal information. Any page or document that contains a disclaimer stating that the information posted is not legal advice and the lawyer does not legally represent the poster is also considered only legal information.

Legal aid organizations may explain how to properly fill out legal documents, and most courthouses will tell you how and where to file them if you call and ask. Some low-cost and no-cost legal organizations work with lawyers who are able to offer legal representation for certain types of cases. The most frequently used free legal services are those pertaining to family law and landlord/tenant law.

Legal information can include:

  • Free services online
  • Free legal websites, including a firm’s website
  • Advice from a lawyer who does not represent you
  • Advice from a legal professional, like a legal assistant or a paralegal, unless they work for your lawyer
  • Answers on online Q&A forums
  • Printed media that illustrates how to fill out certain legal forms

How Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you are seeking legal advice, you should begin by searching for legal information. Finding a good attorney takes a bit more legwork than a Google query. The best place to start is usually with friends, colleagues, or family members who have been through a similar legal issue.

If you don’t have anyone to ask for a referral, looking further on your own may be necessary. Some good places to start your quest are:

  • Attorney referral services, such as the Find an Attorney page
  • The bar association website for your state. From there, you can link to local bar association pages that will list lawyers in your area
  • Law schools near you might offer referral services and legal clinics where you can obtain reliable legal information and lawyer recommendations

During your first meeting with a prospective lawyer, be sure to ask any questions you have about the services they offer and how they relate to your legal needs so you can ensure you have the right attorney for your case. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee, which means they generally take no upfront payments or fees and only get paid once they successfully conclude your case in your favor.


Legal information and legal advice can both be useful depending on the circumstances. Some situations, such as filing a lawsuit, call for the advice and/or representation of a qualified lawyer, whereas in others, only legal information is necessary. You can use the Practice Areas section of to find legal information on multiple areas of law. 

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