“It Depends” Is the Answer to Your Question

It can be hard to get a straight answer out of a lawyer.  Why is that?  It is because lawyers are in the advice business and the advice business is full of peril.  J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings,  understood the dangers of giving advice.  In Book One, Chapter Three of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins seeks advice from the Elf Gildor and the following conversation ensues.

Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last.  ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well.  But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.  The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ Laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.[‘]

Lawyers, like Elves, are very guarded in what they say, especially to non-clients.  This is because (in part) whenever a lawyer gives advice, the lawyer is opening himself up to being sued for giving that advice.  Non-clients often approach a lawyer, give a 15 second fact pattern to the lawyer, and expect the lawyer to tell the non-client what to do.  This is very dangerous territory — a lawyer cannot give proper advice until he has thoroughly investigated the facts and law of a case.  But, even after a thorough investigation, the lawyer might still be counseling a client in a realm full of unknowns and variables.  The end result to the client may be bad despite competent representation and sound advice from the lawyer.  This is because “all courses may run ill.”

With all that said, what is the best way to get a clear answer out of a lawyer? Pay the lawyer.  The lawyer will gladly incur professional liability and wrestle with gray issues when he is paid for his advice.

2 Responses to ““It Depends” Is the Answer to Your Question”

  1. 1 chicagocrimelaw September 5, 2008 at 9:22 am

    My clients are always frustrated with the open ended nature of our conversations…”Well, it depends on the charges…it depends on the wtinesses….it depends on how the judge is feeling that morning.” We don’t deal in certainties and it’s absolutely true that our clients come to us looking for answers. It’s just a fact of life we don’t often have them, rock solid.

  1. 1 Links to Good Stuff « 26th St. Bar Association Trackback on September 10, 2008 at 11:31 am
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Jeremy J. Richey, Attorney at Law
© Jeremy J. Richey and The East Central Illinois Criminal Law & DUI Weblog, 2008-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.