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 give people answers, 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. Before a lawyer can really answer even one question with substance, she must:
- run a conflicts of interest check;
- interview you and, perhaps, a few others who may have experienced this with you or are a part of your perspective;
- analyze your facts to spot applicable legal issues;
- determine what law might apply;
- refresh her 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;
- if the law falls into one of the many areas of law in which she has little to no experience, call a colleague to run the scenario past her or him;
- apply the applicable law to your issues; and
- tell you her initial opinion while explaining that with only your side of the story, her opinion is preliminary and the outcome depends on a lot of other factors that are impossible to be known from what little she knows so far.
We don’t do this to be greedy or selfish, but 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, and that of my staff, so more often I do need to charge for our service to you. And many times, my schedule is so full that asking me to squeeze in one more thing puts me in a real bind, because I really want to help you but I also only have so many hours in a day and some of them need to be reserved for rest and play.
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 a “quick” question or stop me at the grocery store to run something by me, especially when there’s context or background in which I had no involvement, don’t be offended when I ask you to give me more details and tell you we need to schedule a later time to talk. Because before we dive deeper, 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.