Can your lawyer friend give you free legal advice?
It may be tempting to ask for free legal advice from a lawyer you know. Lawyers are often approached for opinions and advice by people out of their normal working hours. However, doing so carries more risk than you may realise. Here’s a few reasons why:
All lawyers practicing in New Zealand are bound by the Rules of Conduct and Client Care (“the Rules”). The Rules set out a framework of requirements which lawyers must follow when giving any sort of legal advice. A lawyer who doesn’t comply with these Rules may be disciplined by the New Zealand Law Society, and might even lose their practicing certificate.
Before giving advice, the Rules require lawyers to provide you with a letter of engagement. A letter of engagement sets out the firm’s terms of engagement, such as who will be doing the work and at what cost, and the complaints process available to you as a client. It also states whether the lawyer or their Firm holds professional indemnity insurance.
In almost all law firms there is a basic chain of command, lawyers and legal executives report to the Partners or Directors of the firm. The Partners or Directors of a firm supervise everyone who’s not a Partner / Director.
When you ask your lawyer friend to provide free advice outside of their working hours, you’re asking them to break the Rules, potentially breach their conditions of employment, and the basic chain of command that provides oversight for you as a client.
Professional indemnity insurance is held by most law firms. It is meant to protect lawyers and their clients.
The idea of PI insurance is that if something goes wrong (and the lawyer is at fault), there may be insurance available to assist with a claim. PI insurance only covers lawyers providing professional services – meaning that it only covers work completed by lawyers who have been properly engaged by their client. PI insurance does not cover free after-hours advice provided as a favour.
Your friend is likely able and willing to help you, however there are rules and regulations that not only protect you but also protect them. As such, the correct processes must be followed to ensure you are properly engaged prior to advice being given.
If your lawyer friend can’t engage you, perhaps because your issue is outside of their area of practice, then they will be more than happy to recommend another lawyer who may be able to assist.