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Lawyers at Social Events: Be Careful of What You Say outside the Courtroom

I’m sure this sounds familiar — you’ve had a long tiring week of going back and forth to court and reviewing countless paperwork.  So now you attend an event to unwind or catch up with some friends and the next thing you know — someone says “You’re a lawyer, right?  I need your advice on…” and now you’re being whisked away and “clocking in” legal advice at a social event.  It may have been a casual response to a question in a seemingly casual conversation but it could also quickly bring unnecessary problems. 

While I hate to be a killjoy but you are still a Member of the Bar albeit at a “bar”.  Ultimately, in accordance with rule 31 of the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978, which states “every advocate and solicitor shall at all times uphold the dignity and high standing of his profession”. 
Here are tips that you can keep in mind as a lawyer when you are being ambushed for legal advice:

1. Giving legal advice
Here’s the problem with that little “friendly advice”: To the person on the other end, it may constitute as legal advice, which he/she may rely on.Let’s look at it this way as well — if it is an event that serves alcoholic drinks and you have had a few, do you really want to give advice that may be inaccurate to this seemingly hopeful person?

2. Disclaimer
It is easier to refrain from giving legal advice via text messages because you can choose to ignore the text and say that you had overlooked it.It can be harder to evade the situation when you are put in a spot at an event by for example your cousin’s friend.Remember to prelude the advice with a disclaimer so that the person on the receiving end is aware and understands that the advice is not meant to be relied on, and to not give assurance that any certain outcome is guaranteed.

3. Intention to create legal relationship
Ideally, if you wish to create a lawyer-client relationship — eg pursue the potential client’s matter, it is advisable to make it clear to them that you intend to do so and will only administer further advice in a professional setting and capacity. You can direct them to your law firm and place everything in black and white, eg letter of appointment outlining the scope of work with regards to the potential client’s matter.

4. Advice outside of practice areas
It can be easy to get carried away when giving advice. Hence it is important for lawyers to not misrepresent themselves and provide advice in areas that do not fall within their practice areas.For instance – a lawyer who does not have experience in handling intellectual property matters should not be giving advice on trademarks.

5. Overclaims
Lawyers are reminded to not brag and make overclaims such as being a known expert on that area as it is unethical and may mislead the other person.

6. Blurred lines of privilege
The legal professional privilege which is embodied in section 126 of the Evidence Act 1950 applies to the communication between a lawyer and his/her client.However, even if the solicitor-client privilege has not been formed yet, in the situation when “a potential client seeks legal advice”, the lawyer still has a duty to keep the information received confidential.This could be easily overlooked especially when the “meeting” takes place at a social event.Hence, it is best not to talk business in social settings.