The line between "legal advice" and "legal information" is often blurred. As a general matter, only a lawyer may give actual legal advice, whereas any non-lawyer may recite legal information. Furthermore, it is generally illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice or otherwise represent someone other than himself or herself in a court of law.
Unlike legal information, legal advice refers to the written or oral counsel about a legal matter that would affect the rights and responsibilities of the person receiving the advice. In addition, actual legal advice requires careful analysis of the law as it applies to a person's specific situation - as opposed to speculation based on generic facts.
From a legal standpoint, the giving of legal advice is tantamount to the practice of law, and only a licensed attorney with whom one has formed an attorney-client relationship with may give actual legal advice. Because of the obligations that arise from the giving of such legal advice, the advice-giver is also bound to certain rights and responsibilities as a result of the information given.
People who either willingly or unknowingly give legal advice without the skill, judgment, or authority to do so are essentially participating in the unauthorized practice of law and, therefore, subject to court penalties .
In a nutshell, legal advice has the following characteristics:
Unlike legal information - such as information posted on a street sign - legal advice proposes a specific course of action a client should take. For instance, it's the difference between telling someone what to do (legal advice) as opposed to how to do it (legal information).
Specific legal advice questions may include:
While legal advice is specific, direct, and proposes a course of action, legal information, on the other hand, is factual, generic, and does not address any one particular cause of action. To help avoid the confusion that often comes with legal information, websites and individuals will often go to great lengths to clarify that any information contained in their site should not be construed as legal advice nor form an attorney-client relationship.
Examples that do not constitute actual legal advice:
Specific legal information questions might include:
Depending on the situation, legal advice and legal information can both be useful. While some situations require the advice of an attorney - such as filing a lawsuit or defending criminal charges - other situations may simply warrant obtaining legal information. Read Practice Area Definitions for legal information about a particular topic, or search for a lawyer in your area to get legal advice about a specific legal matter.