Last Friday evening I received a telephone call from a friend, let’s call him John Smith (very original). John explained to me hurriedly that his friend needed some legal advice on what appeared to be a contracts issue. John described the situation briefly, and asked, “What do you think?”
My mind quickly raced through what I learned in first year contracts, files I’ve dealt with as part of the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP), and then, I reeled a little.
Hold on. Why on earth would anyone be asking me for legal advice? Do people really think I know the law on any given issue because I’ve completed one year of law school? I’m definitely not in any position to give legal advice yet. And anyway, law students are not allowed to provide legal advice.
There are a lot of reasons why I think law students should not give legal advice (unless there is supervision by a lawyer, which is why programs like the LSLAP and Pro Bono Students Canada exist). Here are a few off the top of my head: students may not know how much they do not know. While an issue might seem straightforward, there may be a lot of additional considerations. Laws can change everyday. Also, remember that law students still have to article after they have graduated from law school, and write a bar exam, before they would even be considered a junior lawyer. The legal profession is a practice and a continual learning process. There is a steep learning curve for a reason, because the law can be deceptively complex.
You will find that sometimes, as a law student, friends/family/acquaintances will come to you with legal questions. This isn’t strange. Having studied economics and commerce in undergrad, I remember receiving questions about investment strategies. Which I was in no position to provide (although I’d happily draw out supply and demand curves).
When approached with legal issues, which may even seem startlingly similar to what you’ve read in textbook examples or fact patterns, you might be tempted to explain what you know. Mindful that there may be a desire to be helpful, I still encourage you to refrain from doing so. Instead, I refer people to the Lawyer Referral Service run by the Canadian Bar Association (where individuals can get half-an-hour of time with an actual lawyer for just $25.00), and tell them that in all honesty, I will probably do more harm than good by trying to help them.
This is what I told John.
Thanks for reading 🙂