30 Dec Please Don’t Ask for Legal Advice Via Email
A few days ago, I posted on this blog an article entitled “Should I Prepare and File my Chapter 7 Without an Attorney?” In this post, I responded to an email inquiry from a reader of my Atlanta bankruptcy blog who wanted information about filing pro se.
As you might imagine, I get a lot of email inquiries asking for free advice. I suspect that my colleagues in the Bankruptcy Law Network get similar requests. After all, blogs are part of what is known as Web 2.0 which encourages two way communication between the blog editor and readers.
Please understand, however, that I cannot and will not offer specific advice to a particular individual by email or within a blog post. I am happy to explain a concept or explain why something may have happened, but if a question requests legal advice I will not provide it, and I encourage your understanding of this important point.
First, I cannot offer legal advice to an individual without having all the facts in front of me. When I meet with a client, I often spend two to three hours reviewing paperwork and asking questions. Frequently an “oh, by the way” comment can make a huge difference. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was meeting with a homebuilder about possibly filing bankruptcy. We spent an hour and a half breaking down the mortgages on various properties, his personal assets, and his income potential going forward. After about 90 minutes of this discussion, he asked me “this won’t affect my partnership that owns acreage free and clear, will it?” It turns out that my potential client had a one-half interest in land worth several hundred thousand dollars. In his mind, it was not relevant because (a) there was no debt on this property and (b) he was not the sole owner. In fact, this land ownership is a big deal and he would have lost it had we filed Chapter 7.
In my experience there is almost always an “oh, by the way” moment in a meeting with a potential client. If you were to take bankruptcy action or inaction based on a two paragraph email response, you would be taking a huge risk.
An attorney offering legal advice via email or phone would also be taking a big risk. Attorneys in every state are bound by rules of ethical and professional conduct. It does not matter if we are getting paid or not, if an attorney offers professional advice, that attorney is bound by the attorney-client privilege and that attorney can be sued if the advice is poor.
Here is part of what I wrote in the disclaimer page of my Atlanta bankruptcy blog:
There is one thing that this blog is not, however. This blog is not a substitute for a detailed conversation with a real lawyer about your personal situation. As such, you will not see me offering legal advice on this blog. I am happy to explain a procedure or offer comments about why something might have happened. I may even throw out ideas about what you may want to discuss with your lawyer. But I will not offer legal advice.
What is “legal advice?” If you set out a specific set of facts and ask “what should I do?” that is legal advice. If you ask me if your lawyer made a good or bad decision, that is legal advice.
When I get questions that fall into the “legal advice” category, I may search for the “big picture” point and use that as a theme for a blog post. I may respond directly to the emailer with a referral or I may not answer at all. I generally do not respond to legal advice questions that appear as comments to other blog posts.
I don’t offer legal advice by email or on this blog for several reasons. First and foremost, I do not want to be held liable if you act on that advice and it turns out that I did not have all the facts. Lawyers are subject to rules of professional responsibility, meaning that we can be held liable for bad advice given at a dinner party, email or in casual conversation, regardless of whether a formal retainer was signed or money was exchanged. Therefore, you should not take any specific action based on what you read on this blog. You should consider all of the information on this blog as general educational information about bankruptcy, but not specific advice applicable to any particular situation. If you have a legal problem you need advice specific to your situation and the best way to get that advice is to sit down face to face with a lawyer. I happen to charge for this type of consultation, but some bankruptcy lawyers will meet with you in person at no charge.
I also don’t offer legal advice by email or on this blog because I believe that I deserve to get paid for offering my knowledge and experience. I came to the conclusion several years ago that if I offer my knowledge for nothing, then I am saying to the world that my 20+ years of experience and know-how in the consumer bankruptcy area have no value. I don’t believe that to be the case so if someone wants my analysis and advice, I expect something in return. Most of the time, my fee for a consultation is $150 or $250, which I think is a fair trade for what I can offer.
The Bankruptcy Law Network and its family of financial blogs can be an excellent starting point as you educate yourself about bankruptcy, credit, debt and mortgage issues. No blog post, however, can take the place of a face to face consultation with a lawyer who can offer you personal advice.
Jonathan Ginsberg, Esq.
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