I will not help you. I will not give you my best legal advice. I will not make a phone call or write a letter on your behalf. I will not look over your lease. I will not “make a small change” to your will. I will not answer the phone at some ungodly hour when you’re stuck in the pokey. I will not do any of these things because you are not my client. And I am not your lawyer.
I cannot be clearer about this: I will not give you free legal advice. I don’t care if you’re my mother, my girlfriend, or my doctor. Hell, I don’t care if you’re one of my buddies—even Adam, who once helped me move on the hottest day of the year back when I was in law school—I will not give you free legal advice. Period. No exceptions. Got it?
Of course, most of the people I mentioned know better than to ask me. They know that I have zero inclination to put my license on the line for a non-paying client. They know that I detest working for free. They know that while we all do favors for each other, those favors don’t include tasks we’d otherwise be paid for.
It’s the outer circle of friends, the people that you see at another friend’s party or sit next to on an airplane, that are so comfortable pimping you for advice.
Here’s an actual conversation that I had the other day with a guy I see once a year.
Dave: Hey, I know I never really call you except when I need legal advice, but—
Me: [Laughing it off] You said that last year.
Dave: Did I? Sorry about that. We should totally hang out. But I need something… It’s not for me. It’s my girlfriend. She’s got all these tickets, and she has a court appearance tomorrow. They say that if she doesn’t show up, a warrant will be issued for her arrest. What should she do?
Me: She should show up.
Dave: So, she has to go.
Me: Unless she wants to get arrested.
Dave: So, I should tell her she has to.
Me: And you can tell her I said, “Hi.”
Okay, maybe it’s my fault. I was too polite. I’m always polite when people ask. I don’t go off on rambling diatribes when guys like Dave waste my time with dumb questions because they know I’m a lawyer. Instead, I grin and parry, because lecturing them would somehow make me the asshole. And all of us have Daves who will simply never get it.
One year out of law school, I was at a party when an older-looking man mentioned that he heard I was a lawyer. He seemed to be about 50. This is my recollection of what happened.
Me: I’m a sucker for fruit-based salsas. I can’t quit them.
Old Enough To Be Her Father: Let me ask you something. You’re a lawyer, right? Well, is 18 a hard age limit?
OETBHF: You know. If you sleep with a girl who’s under 18, but you didn’t know, is that cool?
OETBHF: Oh, come on, man. What am I supposed to do, check IDs?
Me: It’s a strict liability crime. You can’t sleep with underage girls.
OETBHF: Okay, well I have this problem I might need to talk to you about.
Me: I don’t do criminal law.
OETBHF: It’s not a big problem. Shouldn’t be that tough for you. You just need to go to court with me.
OETBHF: Come on, man. Be cool. You seem like a cool dude. Why not?
I’ll spare you the details. But rest assured that after explaining what I know about statutory rape (and then thrice repeating the information in painstakingly simple terms for this layman to understand), I went about setting the record straight on why lawyers don’t work for free. I explained about how going to court with him would really be making an appearance on his behalf, which, for me, would create a wide range of duties and obligations as his lawyer. Throughout this explanation, he continued to pepper me with questions, insisting that I could help if I really wanted to. But eventually, this statutory rapist got the message that I don’t work for free, and he left me alone.
I thought that was the end of it. But it wasn’t. The next day, I got an annoyed call from the host who told me that she heard I was rude and abusive to, it turns out, her father.
Daughter Of Statutory Rapist: He just had a few questions, and I thought he could talk to you. I don’t understand why you would be so rude and disrespectful to him.
Me: I wasn’t an asshole. I just didn’t think the situation was appropriate.
DSR: Isn’t that why you got a law degree? To help people? Does just talking to you cost $300 an hour? Are you going to send me a bill for showing up at my party?
Now, I probably could have said a lot of things at that point. I could have told her that her father was a presumptuous old coot. I could have told her that I’d look into the matter (what she really wanted to hear). I even could have asked her, a graphic designer, to make me a new business card for free just to prove a point.
But I didn’t do any of these things. I let it go because fighting about why you don’t want to give someone free legal advice is almost as annoying as actually giving out free legal advice. I say “almost” because I did give some free legal advice once, and that experience was pretty awful.
She was a girl I dated a few times, and I was thinking with my other head. Long story short, she owed some back taxes (should’ve been a sign), and I agreed to help her fight the man. I called the IRS, filled out a few forms, knocked out a few penalties and got her $32,000 bill down to $8k. Oh, and I put her on a payment plan that I knew she’d have no trouble making. Not bad for a guy who got a C in Federal Taxation. But did I get a thank you for taking a week out of my life to save her $24,000 and a possible prison-issued body cavity search?
Instead I got: “Geez. I thought you were a good lawyer, jerk.”
She stopped returning my calls a few days later.
This brings us to an ugly truth about laymen. They love their lawyer jokes. They love to blame trial lawyers for every real and imagined social ill in this country. They love a good celebrity lawsuit, absolutely love to threaten to sue anyone and frequently say “My lawyer” even though they don’t have one. They love the law, whether it serves them as a scapegoat, a dagger in the back of their enemies, or a forum for amusement. They gobble up legal droppings when it’s about making them a buck, making them laugh, or making the other guy pay. But when you tell them that the great, big legal justice system they love (or love to hate) costs money, the answer is always the same.
[In Concert]: Greedy lawyers.
Of course, none of these annoying laymen ever ask me what kind of law I actually practice. But since it’s germane to this rant, I’ll tell you: I’m a Legal Aid lawyer who specializes in juvenile advocacy. None of my clients pay, but I am paid for my work.
So, yes, I do like to help people. I love to help people. That’s a big part of why I went to law school. But, no, I will not help you for free because you approached me inappropriately and had unrealistic expectations. So don’t ask.