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Should You Talk with a Lawyer Online?

Chat rooms and Q&A websites make it easy to ask a lawyer a question online, but is that a good idea? The answer depends on what kind of information you need. Online chats can be useful for deciding if you need a lawyer or how to proceed with a minor legal matter. They are not a good choice, however, for getting real legal advice about a serious legal problem.

General Legal Information from a Lawyer Online

Talking with a lawyer online can be a great way to start researching a legal question or connect with a local attorney.

  • Post a question and get many answers: Many Q&A sites and chat rooms let you post a question, and lawyers with expertise in that area can then post responses. These responses will typically be very general in nature. Many will include a disclaimer that the response is not legal advice and may suggest you call their office for a consultation.
  • Evaluate multiple lawyers: There are also websites where you can enter a legal issue, and the site will forward your problem to lawyers in your area with the appropriate expertise. The lawyers will get back to you by email or phone. This is not really talking online, but it can be an easy way to connect with several lawyers to find one you like.

A word of caution: If you are posting in a chat room or similar open forum, do not post about a crime you may have committed. Stick to general legal topics. Conversations in these forums are not protected by attorney-client privilege, because there is no attorney-client relationship.

Specific Legal Advice from a Lawyer Online

It is actually very unlikely you will be able to get specific legal advice by talking with a lawyer online. Specific advice requires an attorney-client relationship. Lawyers are generally prohibited, by law, from creating an attorney-client relationship with people they chat with online. For example, Wisconsin's rules of conduct for attorneys state that "A lawyer shall not by … real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client ..."

Some law firms do have "live chat" functions on their websites, but even when using those, it is likely you are not talking with a real lawyer, nor creating an attorney-client relationship. These chat functions are usually handled in one of these ways:

  • Outsourced: A chat service, often specializing in serving legal firms, takes your information and passes it on to the firm.
  • In-house: Even in this case, it is unlikely that an attorney is handling chats. It is more likely that you are speaking with a secretary or paralegal.

If you have a real legal problem, your best move is to contact a local lawyer's office to discuss your particular situation. There is nothing wrong with finding that lawyer online, but save the details for your offline conversation.