At what point is it illegal for a layman to give legal counsel?

Pretty much everyone knows certain common-sense legal wisdom - like,* “If arrested, use your Miranda Rights - don’t talk to the cops, especially not until you have a lawyer,” *etc., or things like, “Suing that department store for $800,000 because the smell of their nail polish gave you a headache isn’t a good idea.”

But at what point does a layman overstep the boundaries and begin to give too much legal counsel? What about a paralegal?

You’re likely to get a different answer depending on the laws of each state/province/country.

In my province, anyone can give legal advice; the two dividiing lines are that you can’t do it for money unless you’re a lawyer, and you can’t hold yourself out as a lawyer unless you are one.

This post not intended as legal advice, but simply to comment on a matter of public interest. :slight_smile:

Anyone can give legal advice - so long as they prefix it with “IANAL”.

I think it depends on the particular procedure, and the specific law that gives the procedure will say. I’m speaking to lower level civil matters where the law states the participant may be represented by an “agent”, who can be anyone.

I was in a trial where someone from the audience was trying to coach the defendant from the audience. The judge had the guy come up to the tables and speak freely for the defendant. I was a little pissed but kept my mouth shut. Once I got home I looked it up in the law and sure enough, it said the judge was allowed to do this.

ETA: “If arrested, use your Miranda Rights - don’t talk to the cops, especially not until you have a lawyer”

If what you are doing does not take money (fees) away from any lawyer, then no problem!

It’s a consumer protection measure, common in most regulated professions and trades.

For instance, if you want to do some home renovations and your buddy does the electrical wiring for you as a favour, that’s usually okay. But your buddy can’t charge you for it.

Purpose of these types of rules is to protect the consumer by ensuring that if they’re paying for a service, the person doing the service, whether electrical wiring or legal stuff, has the proper training, insurance, etc.

Is this really true? You can’t pay your friend to help you with an electrical wiring job (that it’s okay to do yourself)?

You can pay him all you want. He cannot perform services and hold himself out as a qualified electrician if he is not in fact that. The same way that your friend cannot (usually) represent you in Court if he is not a lawyer while you can represent yourself.


At least in my part of the world, a homeowner can pull an electrical (plumbing, building, HVAC, etc.) permit in their own name to work on their own property, and who they hire as labor on said project is their own business.

On the other hand, there was a long-running dispute locally about an elderly man who drew up plans for and oversaw the construction of a new sanctuary for his church. He wasn’t an architect or engineer, didn’t hold himself out to be one, and didn’t charge the congregation anything for his work, but the state board regulating the professions still fined him for doing professional work for others without benefit of a license. (If I remember right, that one ended with the state legislature passing a bill forbidding the state board from using any state money or employees to try to enforce their orders, however.)

Not where I live, no. For instance, we had a friend laying bricks in our yard, for pay, and I asked him if he could also wire the yard lamp. He said no - he could pour the concrete foundation, and make sure there were spaces for the wires left in the foundation, but since it was a paying job, he could not accept pay for the electrical work - I had to call an electrician.

We also had a painter/carpenter installing a new built-in clothes closet, and he discovered a live light socket hidden by the previous unit. He could use a tester to show that it was live, but since it was a paying job and he was not an electrician, he could not disconnect the socket. Needed to call an electrician to do it.

In both cases, the guys were handy fellows who could have done the job if it was on their own property, or not as part of a paying job, but if it’s for pay, it has to be licensed electrician.

As I said, it’s a consumer protection measure. If you’re paying someone to do the job, that person has to have the proper training and licence. Same as for a lawyer.

What Northern Piper posted was that he can’t charge to do electrical wiring for you - which is not the same thing as holding himself out as a qualified electrician.

And that may be the case in my province as well - by taking out the permit, you’re taking on the liability. But I did not take out a permit myself for either job.

The purpose of state/provincial licence boards is again, consumer protection. When you’re building a building for use by members of the public, you want some assurance that the building won’t fall down and hurt someone. That in turn means you regulate the person who is planning and building the structure. I can see why even if no money was involved, the state board would say this wasn’t proper.

Yup, because as soon as you say there was no money paid, the contractor becomes a “friend” and a “thank you gift” in the form of an envelope full of cash circumvents a ton of the process.

Those types of restrictions are decided at the local levee. Where I live you can do your own wiring, but only a licensed electrician can do it for you, paid or not. When we first moved here my dad replaced a fuse box with a breaker box for us. We paid for the breaker box, but did not pay him. We later found out that it was not legal for him to do so. (No one got in trouble).

In Ohio, as a non-lawyer, you can offer your buddy all the free legal advice you want, and it’s worth just what he paid for it. But you can’t charge him for it, you can’t prepare pleadings for him and sign them, and you can’t go with him to court and try to speak for him. Those are privileges reserved for lawyers admitted to the bar. It’s meant to assure at least a minimal level of legal competency, and also to give you recourse to the disciplinary process if your lawyer bungles your case, betrays your confidences, steals from you, etc.

And around here, also amounts to an offence under the Goods and Services Tax Act.

For more on having your non-lawyer buddy “represent” you, see paragraphs 8-10 in this Ohio case:

Counsel asks questions of the defendant and cross examines the peoples witnesses ,and gives the summation and legal argument.

Someone in the audience wanting to say something is just a witness.