I am always honored to hear from you seeking advice on legal and policy matters. It means you have confidence in me and my knowledge, and that means a lot. But please remember: with few exceptions, there are no “quick questions.” In order for me to answer your “quick question,” I am ethically required to do a number of things. Most importantly, I have to make sure I don’t have a conflict of interest. Since I’ve been practicing for 20 years, I have to search a pretty comprehensive database. Then, for every one “quick question” you have, I will likely need to ask five questions to get context and clarification. Finally, I don’t often like to do an analysis in my head. Memories are faulty, and every situation has nuance. Lawyers don’t have all the answers, but we usually know where to look to find them.
Here’s how it usually works. We take the context and clarity we got from our follow up questions to your “quick question” and: (1) ask the staff to do a conflicts of interest check; (2) analyze your facts to spot applicable legal issues; (3) determine what law might apply; (4) refresh our understanding of that law and ensure it wasn’t changed by (a) the legislature, (b) the Indiana Court of Appeals or Supreme Court, or (c) the 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court; (5) if the law falls into one of the many areas of law we have little to no experience in, call a colleague to run the scenario past her or him; (6) apply the applicable law to your “quick question;” and (7) tell you our initial opinion while explaining that with only your side of the story, our opinion is preliminary and the outcome depends on a lot of other factors that are impossible to be known from what little we know so far.
We don’t do this to be greedy or selfish, but the truth is we have spent a lot of time and intellectual energy developing the practical and analytical skills to provide you with these kinds of answers. In addition, if we don’t follow all of the steps above, we risk damaging your interests and potentially become liable for that as well, resulting in not only monetary loss but also potential disciplinary action.
Sometimes I am willing to do these things at no charge, often because we are friends, or because you need immediate help and don’t know where else to go, or because your organization is an important part of the fabric of our community. But this is also my livelihood, so sometimes I do need to charge for my service. And no, it’s not cheap. You’ll need a credit card, a loan from your parents, or bank financing. Ask the $90,000 in receivables (that’s money for services I have rendered and not been paid) why I am reluctant to let clients make payments.
(Fun fact, because lawyers bill by the hour, I keep a log of the time I spend each day on billable work and nonbillable work – my work days, which start at 5 am and run until about 6 pm, are usually about 65% billable, 35% nonbillable, pretty consistently. This little detour in my work day, however, will not be logged.)
All of this is why my Facebook “about” section says to please not ask me for legal advice via Facebook. And when you just want me to call you to answer questions or stop me in public (which I’m not in very often anymore, but you know what I mean), don’t be offended when I ask you to give me more details before we even talk because I need to make sure (a) I’m even competent to discuss the issue, (b) I don’t have a conflict, and (c) I have something to write on, even if it’s a cocktail napkin.
Peace to you all. Thanks for hanging in if you did.