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Getting Information

By: the American Bar Association

What is the difference between legal information and legal advice?

Although the line between legal information and legal advice is blurry, there are important differences between the two. Anyone can sell or give you legal information. On the other hand, only a licensed lawyer can give you legal advice. Legal information is supposed to be general and not based on a specific set of facts. Legal advice is provided by a trained lawyer who uses his or her knowledge of the law to tell you how the law applies to your specific circumstances.

When you get legal advice from a lawyer, you also enter into an "attorney-client relationship" with the lawyer. This gives you certain legal protections. For example, the lawyer cannot tell someone else what you said without your permission. Your lawyer can't advise or represent someone whose position or interests will conflict with yours. You do not have these protections when you get legal information from someone.

What is the difference between a "National Nonprofit Source" of legal information and a "Commercial Source?"

A number of national organizations/agencies with a public service mission offer web pages with legal information. Usually these sources present the information in an unbiased manner that is not part of a "sales pitch" for other services or products. We have listed these types of sources under "National Nonprofit Sources."

There are also a number of web sites sponsored by businesses or organizations that are part of for-profit enterprises. Many of these, too, seek to provide clear information that does not try to steer you to buy other products or services. But sometimes a site will carry advertising, or will be offered by a vendor of products related to the information offered. Therefore, we list these sites under "Commercial Sources." This does not mean that the information found there is necessarily suspect or incorrect; but it does suggest that you use a little more caution in using these sources.

Do I Have to Use a Lawyer?

Many people handle legal issues by themselves, without a lawyer. But the law is complicated, and one legal matter can affect another legal issue. For example, a divorce or child custody issue might affect your taxes. Lawyers are able to tell you about how one legal action or decision might affect others. If you want to proceed without a lawyer, it is worth finding a good information source that can alert you about the issues you should be aware of.

What about legal books?

Published legal books can be excellent sources of legal information. Some books are produced by bar associations or government agencies as a public service. Look for them in the "self-help" or "law" section of your local bookstore or library. (Your library's reference desk should be able to tell you where to find legal books.) Books may not address your particular situation, so you still may want to consult with a lawyer for help with part of your legal situation. Also, make sure a book specifically describes the law in your state, and that it has been published recently (older books may not be up-to-date, since the law changes frequently).