As lawyers we are faced with the above query on a very regular basis from people who believe that an answer to their legal query can be given to them ‘just like that’.
Nine times out of 10, it’s just not possible to give an off the cuff answer. It’s not because we don’t want to answer, or because we’re being mean, but because there are a number of considerations we have to make prior to advising.
Firstly, there are generally no ‘quick questions’ when it comes to family or housing law. We are aware that clients are hoping to get their question answered as a freebie, but the reality is that asking a lawyer a question has a cost to it, a bit like when you ask a plumber to fix a leaky tap. The plumber will need to assess the work so that s/he can give you an accurate quote for the work needed and an idea of whether or not it will in fact be ‘quick’ to fix. The same is true of a lawyer. We need information before being able to a) assess whether your question is in fact a quick one and b) whether advice can be given off the cuff that will adequately answer that question. In the vast majority of cases, there is no ‘quick answer’ even if the question itself is ‘quick’.
Secondly, we are obliged by our regulator to ensure that we have established who our clients are and that we have provided them with the appropriate information about us, our terms and conditions and our regulatory responsibilities (including our insurance information) before we proceed with giving advice. You also have a responsibility to ensure that you are asking for advice from someone qualified to provide that advice accurately to you.
Thirdly, we provide an exceptionally high number of hours of pro bono assistance every year and we have strict criteria which we have to follow in order to assess who to give that pro bono assistance to. No volunteer or employee of the firm is allowed or entitled to give advice off the cuff, and it is a gross misconduct issue if they do so – so don’t blame them when they say they cannot advise you on your ‘quick question’. All free advice to a pro bono client has an ultimate cost to the business and all pro bono help has to be approved by a manager or director of the company first.
Fourthly, but most importantly, all legal questions have background circumstances and listening to that takes time – without the background, the answer may not be what it appears in response to a ‘quick question’. We have a duty of care to provide accurate advice, listening to the problem takes time, and time costs money, as does appropriate regulation, insurance and supervision.
So before you say ‘it’s just a quick question’, please consider the above and be prepared to book an appointment.