The vast array of tubes is choked with sites where citizens can post vague, ambiguously worded, fatally-incomplete legal inquiries and lawyers — or people pretending to be lawyers, or people who like law shows on the TV — can post "answers." Often such sites are primarily marketing venues for attorneys. Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice uses an example from Avvo, one such site, to illustrate what should be obvious to a reasonably sophisticated consumer: the paragraph of legal advice you get from some functionally anonymous person of unknown qualifications based on your question (which is almost certainly lacking crucial details that a professional would need to know to give an intelligent answer) is probably worthless and quite possibly dangerous. As Scott's example shows, you get people from other states giving answers outside their practice area based on dangerous or moronic preconceptions.
In a related phenomenon, I see people seeking legal advice on internet forums all the time.
Here's my two cents about getting legal advice online, or finding a lawyer online:
1. Don't make an important or hasty decision based on anonymous — or effectively anonymous — online advice.
2. Asking questions online, whether at legal advice sites or on forums, can be useful to the limited extent that it helps you sharpen and articulate your question, and to the extent that sometimes the responses will help you identify what the issues are, if not what the answers are. But view all answers with extreme skepticism.
3. It never ceases to amaze me that people assume that I know how to contest traffic tickets in Boston and how to defend antitrust cases and what landlord-tenant law is in Oregon. Lawyers do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of law. A small-scale civil practitioner in Maine likely knows jack-all about criminal defense in Texas or patent litigation in federal court. With lawyers, subject matter and regional specialization matters, no matter what they tell you. Could a gynecologist advise you about that sinus problem? Well, yes . . . but you are better off with an ENT specialist. That's especially so when you consider that doctors, like lawyers, have a cultural tendency to pretend to know the answers when they don't.
4. The most reliable basis to choose a good lawyer is a recommendation from another lawyer in the same field, when that other lawyer is someone you can trust, like a good friend or family member. The next best is a recommendation from a past client, when the client is someone you can trust. The least reliable basis is attorney marketing.
5. Be extremely skeptical of paid lawyers telling you not to trust the services of free lawyers.
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