In a recent blog article, I warned against using some family member or friend that happens to be a Lawyer, to handle a Detroit-area Criminal, DUI or Driver’s License Restoration case. The point of that admonition was to avoid getting involved with a Lawyer who offers or otherwise thinks they can “do” one of these cases, even though their area(s) of Practice is something different. Since I’m on a roll about the things a person should NOT do, this article will address another fairly common “no-no” that never does anything good; the “legal advice” from well meaning friends or family-members who are NOT Lawyers.
Some Lawyers call this “bar stool legal advice,” because it is, at best, the kind of b.s. a person hears from the “expert” sitting on the next bar stool. As a Lawyer who concentrates in Drunk Driving, Driver’s License Appeal and certain kinds of Criminal cases, I have had to deal with this countless times in the past. Honestly, I hate it; I have little patience and less time, really, to hear, second-hand, the amateur legal analysis of some non-Lawyer. Having endured it from my side of the desk, it has changed me as a Patient or Client or customer when I’m sitting on the other side. Ask any Lawyer or Doctor about the helpful, know-it-all relative, and you’ll get a knowing smirk accompanied by a roll of the eyes.
Without fail, every time I am confronted with the expert legal opinion of some inter-meddling non-Lawyer, I have to explain how and why they are wrong. Never, in 22 years of being a Lawyer, have I learned anything I didn’t already know. No one has ever made me aware of a Law or rule of which I wasn’t already familiar, and I have never been presented with a strategy better than that which I already had.
Instead, when someone says “A friend of mine told me….” or, “I have a friend who is a Police Officer,” or, “My brother had the exact same kind of case,” I know that I’m about to have to waste some time explaining things.
No doubt the advice given by these well-meaning souls was tendered with only the best of intentions. Yet that doesn’t make the advice itself any better.
To put this in perspective, I regularly represent Lawyers and their friends and families in DUI and Criminal matters. Invariably, the Lawyer, unless he or she is the Client, serves as the contact person, and explains that such a case is outside their field of experience. They understand the meaning of the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Accordingly, they defer to the person who handles such cases day in and day out – me.
Sometimes, a Lawyer will simply need information about something that is beyond their area of Practice. This happens to me, and to just about every Lawyer who has real life Clients. The more cerebral amongst us will call another Lawyer who handles the kind of matter about which we want to inquire. Why talk to someone who makes his or her living doing something else? Why would anyone with a brain listen to the advice of some “Jailhouse Lawyer?”
It is probably just human nature to “commiserate” with a sympathetic ear, and it is probably just as natural to offer “advice” based upon one’s own, limited knowledge, or to share knowledge of what seems like a similar experience. Yet this almost always muddles things, and seldom, if ever, clears up any confusion or otherwise proves helpful.
When I need a Lawyer to collect on a debt, I use an Attorney who specializes in that field. And while I can more or less understand many of the legal nuances involved in the case, I don’t have the experience to fully understand things like strategy or procedure, and how such procedure can differ between two cases that seem very much alike, but are pending in different Courts. I know enough to know that I don’t know enough, so to speak.
Worse yet, the amateur Lawyer will almost always talk big. In other words, they’ll tell the person facing a DUI that since the Police didn’t read their Miranda rights, the case should be dismissed. And they have good authority for that, because it happens on TV so much, it just has to be true….
Except that, in every DUI case I’ve ever seen, no one has ever been convicted, or not, based upon what they’ve said. The Prosecution in a DUI case will most assuredly NOT be relying upon Dave the Drinker’s answer that he had 2 beers, or 12 beers, or 20 beers in order to convict him. Instead, the Prosecutor will be relying upon Dave’s Breath Test score (known as BAC, or Bodily Alcohol Content) or blood test result as proof of his intoxication.
Over the years, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been treated to the “wisdom” of Jailhouse Lawyers (whose best thinking landed them behind bars, no less…) and endured the “it’s not fair” diatribes of co-dependant family members. As much as it wastes time, I’ve also learned that people need to vent. Thus, I’ll bite my tongue, let the person talk, and then help them sort things out. It’s no skin off my back, although it may prove a letdown for them to find out, for example, that not having been read their Miranda rights after a DUI Arrest won’t affect the case against them.
The point I’m trying to make is that if you’re looking for real advice on a Criminal or DUI case, forget your co-worker. Speak with a Criminal Lawyer. If you are contemplating filing a License Restoration Appeal, don’t look for expert advice from other people at an AA meeting. Sure, some of them may have been through the Appeal process, but that doesn’t make them License Restoration Lawyers. By the same token, if you need information about Divorces or Wills or Contracts, don’t ask me. I don’t do that stuff. I might have a slightly more knowledge than the next guy, but anything I say is likely to be off the mark. Of course, this is why a Cardiologist, and not a Podiatrist, does a heart valve bypass, and why a Gynecologist, and not a Cardiologist, delivers a baby. Even though I’ve had plenty of experience being a Patient, in no case should I, the Lawyer, be offering Medical advice and playing “Doctor.”
Human nature being what it is, people will still talk to people about their situations. As much as I urge caution, I will no doubt do the same thing regarding things in my own life. The difference, I think, is that knowing from my own professional experience how decidedly un-professional the “advice” of amateur outsiders can be, I will (hopefully) take anything I hear with the appropriate “grain of salt.” A humorous poster once noted on some website I had visited that his advice was “worth exactly what you paid for it….”
I can’t think of a better way to put it.