"Can I get legal advice at a law library?"
Mar 31, 2017
Is there someone at the law library who can advise what I should do in my case? Short answer is, no. What you are asking is whether library staff can give you legal advice in your matter and you cannot get legal advice at a law library. What you can get is help finding the answers to legal questions that you do have. Every day I am asked questions that would require me to give legal advice and I think that we often get confused as to what constitutes legal advice.
Legal advice refers to written or oral counsel about a legal matter that would affect the rights and responsibilities of the person receiving the advice. California Business and professions code §6125 says “no person shall practice law in California unless the person is an active member of the State bar”. Since legal advice does count as practicing law, it is illegal for individuals who are not members of the California State bar association to practice
If you are still not clear as to what legal advice is here are some examples: recommending legal forms, giving an opinion on how a legal problem should be handled, pointing out a code or regulation and telling someone it will help their case, helping someone write a brief or prepare a will, interpreting a legal document, and interpreting the law. These are all different forms of legal advice that should only be given by an attorney.
I once had a patron ask me, “what is the statute of limitations for a written contract.” As soon as I heard the words “statute of limitations” (AKA limitation of actions) I knew I could not answer that question. I kindly told her that I cannot tell her that and she responded “It’s just a simple question, why can’t you answer that?” While it may sound like a “simple question,” the reason I can’t answer that is because if I do tell her what the limitation of actions is for her particular situation and I mistakenly give her the wrong answer and she relies on what I said to her detriment, she may be angry enough to seek legal action against the law library.
Another example is when someone comes in with a judicial council form or any court related documents and asks, “Hi I was wondering if you could help me fill this out, or can you just check if I did this right?” I know that also sounds like something “simple” to do, but it is also considered legal advice. No, we can’t help you revise your documents nor can we help you fill them out.
Some of you may be thinking, “if you can’t do that then what can you do?” Good question. What we can do is recommend legal resources and show you how to use them. We can help you find definitions of legal words, we can help show you how to use legal databases, we can teach you legal research techniques such as how to use the California digest, the table of statutes, the table of cases, how to use Shepard’s Citator, and we can help you locate judicial profiles and biographical information about judges sitting on the bench in California. Don’t forget we can even help you find legal assistance such as a self-help center or a lawyer referral service.
Wow! that sounds like a lot of help. It’s hard for those of us who want to help everyone, but can’t. It is also difficult to have someone breaking down in front of you because they feel helpless, but we try our best to help you find the answer.
Fact is, you are not helpless nor are you alone! You have us here to help guide you every step of the way. Also, please take it easy on our Librarians who are here to help show you how to do your own legal research. You will feel a sense of victory when you find your answer(s) and realize that you did it all on your own!
Gloria is a Library Assistant at our Victor Miceli Law Library branch.