The Top 5 Reasons Not To Post Legal Questions Online
Perhaps the single most important benefit of representation by a skilled attorney is that of confidentiality. Although there may be limited exceptions to the rule of confidentiality, a lawyer may not disclose communications had with the client. A lawyer is also prohibited from disclosing information that has come to him or her because of the representation. It is more than just a legal notion. The concept of confidentiality is treated with enormous respect and seriousness. A violation of a client confidence is one of the surest ways for a lawyer to lose their license to practice law. A client may feel free to discuss a variety of matters with his or her counsel. The cloak of confidentiality guards discussions of case weakness in a civil matter. Perhaps more importantly, in a criminal matter, concepts of defense, mitigation and perhaps even circumstantial evidence of guilt may be shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege.
These protections are lost when the substance of the communication is disclosed to or shared with a third person. What may not be clear to someone who has not had to have an attorney represent them is that, generally:
Communications between a lawyer and a potential client are privileged and are not subject to disclosure.
That leads us directly into the question posed in the title. Is it a good idea to post legal questions online? I participate in a number of services where individuals seek free legal suggestions in the form of online posts. I do believe that these online fora are valuable services to those in need of help, who may not be able to afford legal counsel. While I encourage individuals to use the services I would offer some cautionary guidelines. I would never post it online question dealing with guilt or innocence in a criminal matter. These conversations should only be had in a confidential setting with a seasoned lawyer. It may be unlikely that the subject of the online communication reaches a police officer or a state's attorney, but I can assure you:
...online postings on social media have been utilized as evidence in criminal prosecutions.
While it may be unlikely that a state's attorney, a prosecutor, a detective, or a police officer is perusing your social media pages- it is not impossible. While might be highly unlikely that such individuals would find a question that you had posted online about your criminal case - it is not impossible. Caution is and remains advised..
While the consequences of an unintended waiver of client confidentiality might be less severe in a civil case, the notions of caution still apply. While it might be unlikely that an admission, or suggestion of guilt, from an online question makes it into the hands of a defense attorney in a car accident case -it is not impossible.
It is my suggestion that when people use online questions and services to obtain legal information that they post anonymously with as little specific factual detail as possible.
Now, it might be a fine line between providing enough information for the answering attorney to intelligently assess your situation, and withhold enough to still conceal your identity, it is nevertheless to wise to fall on the cautious side of that line. Anyone who seeks legal suggestions online should also keep in mind the context of the reply. Asking a question online does not create a lawyer-client relationship. The lawyers that participate in these services are donating their time to the public at large and sharing their knowledge free of charge. They are not your lawyer, and they are not giving specific legal advice to you, but rather doing the best they can based on the information you provided to give a general framework of the legal landscape around your particular situation.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 7/30/20.