Monday, November 24, 2014

I can only do so much

legal advice
The other day as I was getting my law Librarian groove on, a guy was wanting some advice on how to proceed with his case.  When I was not forthcoming, he got screaming mad and he said, "If you don't tell me what I need to know, I'll get my shotgun!"  While I'm thinking he was jesting, it's a good thing I kiss the wife and kids every morning when I leave for work - just in case.

The thing is omnipotent as I am in my capacity as a law Librarian, I am prohibited by law from giving legal advice. What is legal advice?  Simply put, legal advice is the professional or formal opinion of a lawyer relating to the substance or procedure of the law.  In plain English, it is the information an attorney gives to a person as it relates to a legal matter such as recommending or "advising" the client to take certain action or how to use or fill-out a particular legal form. 

How does this translate in a law library setting?  Say, for example a person comes into the law library and is reading a case that relates to their situation.  Say person doesn't really understand what they are reading so they come up to me and ask,

  • "Can you tell me what this means (as it relates to my situation)?" or 
  • "What do you think this means (for my situation)?" or 
  • "How might this be applied (to my situation)?"

What each of these questions are doing is asking how to proceed in their situation (i.e. advice).  Maybe the person is trying to fill out a legal form and they need help with a few blank lines.  Again, I can't help you fill out your form because filling out a form is legal advice (because I'm telling you how to proceed).

Bottom line, there is really only one question that I, as your friendly neighborhood law Librarian, can answer for you and that is, "Where can I find information about...?"  Given the fact that I have a slew of advanced degrees, while I can't tell you how to use the information, I know enough about the law to know what resources are best to put in your hands so that you can answer the "how to use" questions yourself.  Yeah, I am that good.

1 comment:

  1. That is an excellent description of the difference between legal advice and providing legal information! I hope a lot of people see it, especially newer librarians who may not be sure where to draw the line.