The Dangers of Giving Legal Advice on Social Media Forums

In a world largely dominated by the influence of social media, it is no surprise we rely on these forums as a quick source of advice. When we need a quick local recommendation, we turn to Facebook. When we want to see if others have had a similar experience to us, we head to our trusty local page to start a bigger conversation.
Social media has provided us with a fantastic medium for quick, thought-out and often reliable advice. But we must start thinking more seriously about the dangers of providing and receiving online advice, particularly when it comes to the law.
 
Giving advice online
There are significant dangers in providing online legal advice. Only a lawyer may give legal advice to their clients. What we see online is numerous non-lawyers reciting legal information or simply providing their own interpretation of current legislation.
Providing legal advice online can be complicated and can confuse many other people reading, rather than just the person it is intended for. Therefore, your advice or recommendation has a ripple effect, and is subject to a multitude of interpretations.
We understand that people turn to Facebook forums and groups as a safe place to ask impeding questions about their personal situation or about something they have heard. There are many different precautions that must be taken when providing any form of comment or interpretation on forums:

  • Keep the advice general, and do not provide detailed discussion or instruction;
  • Make clear the basis on which the comment is being given;
  • Make clear that you are only providing personal opinion or experience, not formal advice;
  • Suggest that the individual seek formal advice from a solicitor.

 
Avoiding the advice
Our general advice would be to avoid posting questions that may lead to legal recommendations or responses. This way, the unwanted legal opinions or advice can be avoided before there is any kind of confusion.
There are of course risks involved in relying on free online legal advice:

  1. General confusion. The responses to some online questions may cause members of the forum to become confused, distrustful and sceptical.
  2. Dramatising the situation. Often we receive information that makes us jump to scary conclusions. This leads to unnecessary stress and strain on the individual and other viewers.
  3. Developing unrealistic expectations. Whether these expectations are good or bad, they are largely counterproductive. In our experience, every situation is different and must be tailored to the client with care.

 
Our tips

  1. Be careful about how much information you disclose online about your situation. When you consult directly with a lawyer, your communications are entirely protected by lawyer–client privilege. These same protections do not apply on Facebook forums or online communications. Any information that you disclose is not privileged.
  2. No matter the quality of the advice online, it never replaces the experience and insight gained from meeting directly with a lawyer. The advice is specifically tailored to your situation, and is free from opinion or interpretation.
  3. Never rely on the advice you see online. Proceed with caution when you read the multitude of advice provided by non-lawyers.

 
For more information, feel free to contact Gowland Legal or visit our website for more information. Alternatively, you can send us an email at contact@gowlandlegal.com.au or phone us on 9569 3000.

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