The Cost of Online Legal Advice
When people feel hopeless about their mountain of debt, free or cheap Internet advice seems like the best alternative to calling a lawyer. Knowledge is power, but too much information from inaccurate or misleading sources can in fact be more harmful than no information. For example:
- A Minnesota consumer posted on a debtor message board that she was garnished by a creditor who hadn’t gotten a court judgment against her (or so she thought). The only response was from an attorney not licensed in MN. He advised her that it’s not legal to garnish someone before you’ve gotten a court judgment against them, so she had nothing to worry about.
- The Cost of His Free Advice: I imagine the consumer was in for a rude surprise when she learned the online lawyer was wrong and there was an actual case against her by a real creditor who could legally garnish her wages even if it didn’t already have a court judgment against her. Minnesota has very creditor-friendly rules for debt collection cases, and only a Minnesota attorney who handles these matters would know this happens (and it happens daily). What was her recourse for relying on bad, ‘free’ online advice? How many checks bounced because her paycheck was much smaller than anticipated?
- The Case of ‘Ironclad’ Case: Nearly every week, Minnesota consumers ask me and other attorneys to represent them in cases they knew were ‘slam dunks’ based on their online research. They found cases, statutes and law review articles, chatted with other wronged consumers on message boards, written very assertive demand letters to creditors, and even drafted their own court documents. They totally know the law and just need a lawyer’s help to finish what they started.
- Shooting Yourself In The Foot: Nobody likes to be wrong, and you will likely distrust the attorney who tells you that your research won’t help your situation. There are too many exceptions, caveats and distinguishing factors for each case, and you couldn’t have known to look for all of them. Or you could be kinda-sorta right, but the attorney may still need to turn down the case because your insistence on knowing the law will keep him from effectively representing you. Let’s face it, most people hate lawyers, but we have up to six figures in student loan debt for a reason. We went to school to learn the law and represent clients who cannot or should not represent themselves.
So where can you turn for accurate information about MN consumer law matters? I will be adding a page on my blog with a list of resources, and have written about some great resources already. In the meantime, consider contacting an attorney for a free or low-cost initial consultation. It could wind up costing you a lot less than the advice you get on message boards.