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Why you should be careful about taking legal advice from your doctor/sibling/parent/spouse/family member/co-worker/the internet

Posted by Scott M. Peterson | Apr 06, 2018

We live in an interesting time.  Now more than ever we have access to an amount of information that was quite literally unfathomable just twenty years ago. 

You can, with the click of a button, find out how many strikeouts David Cone had for the Yankees in 1996 (71), how old Marcus Aurelius was when he died (58), and how many eggs Paul Newman ate in Cool Hand Luke (50). 

You can also, for better or worse, find forums online where people are happy to give legal/medical or other professional “advice” based upon their own personal or anecdotal experience. 

This can be dangerous.

And it's not only limited to conversations online.  You can also get this “advice” from anyone in your circle: your parent, spouse, sibling, cousin, doctor or co-worker.  Everyone has an opinion, because a) they genuinely want to help; and b) they or someone they know may have experienced something that vaguely resembled your situation.

Let's look at an example.

You were recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that will have a significant impact on your life moving forward.  Upon learning of this you do the right thing and inform your boss that you may need some help, and that you're still looking into your options. 

Your boss does the wrong thing, and fires you a few weeks later. 

Devastated, you mention this to your neurologist during your next visit.  In passing, your neurologist tells you that you should definitely talk to a lawyer, because you “have a slam dunk case, and you're going to be a very rich man after all of this.”

And this example is not restricted to medical professionals.  Similar statements can and do come from any of the aforementioned categories of people, who generally only want to help.  And maybe they did have a friend/family member/patient/colleague who was involved in a successful lawsuit.

Why is this a problem?

For several reasons. 

Your doctor has never practiced law

First, your doctor (and we're using this an example - it could be anyone) has likely never practiced law.  Just as we have never practiced medicine.  Because of this, your doctor has not considered (and is most likely not even aware of) the significant number of legal and factual issues that come into play in assessing the likelihood of success (let alone recovery) in a discrimination or complex catastrophic injury lawsuit.

This makes sense, of course.  The fact that we have represented many people who have broken legs in accidents does not render us qualified to perform orthopedic surgery.  We may have some experience recognizing the conditions and common treatments, complications, etc., but we have no experience with the technical details of the procedure.  And it's these details that separate the professionals from those of us with no experience. 

People want to be helpful and, in the days of ubiquitous information, it has become easier for people to learn about things that were once confined to only those who had undergone some formal level of education and training. 

And in many ways, this is good.  We firmly believe that an educated client is a good client, which is why we post so much free information on our website.  But it's important not to confuse having read about something on the internet, or having heard from a friend that he or she settled her case for x dollars, with having had real world experience with the subtleties and nuances of individual situations. 

Employment and serious injury law is highly technical

We often hear from people who have a friend or relative who has told them that they “have a good case.”  Sometimes this is true, sometimes it's not. 

On some occasions, that friend or relative is a lawyer.  This can be helpful – the more informed and experienced people in your corner, the better.

Except that we often learn that the lawyer actually practices in California, or handles exclusively wills, real estate or traffic ticket law. 

This means, unfortunately, that they have very likely never had experience with the technical concerns involving a complicated employment discrimination lawsuit, or a complex catastrophic injury case.  The same holds true for us – our experience with employment and serious injury litigation does not render us qualified to provide opinions about complex real estate transactions.

For better or worse, the legal profession has become much like the medical profession, in that most lawyers these days tend to limit their practices to one or two specific areas.  This is, in our opinion, a good thing, because it allows the lawyers to become very knowledgeable about, and experienced in, specific areas of the law.  Personally, I know that if I needed brain surgery, I'd want to go to the doctor who only specializes in brain surgery, as opposed to the doctor who does an occasional brain surgery, but also treats skin conditions, feet problems and ears/eyes. 

Every case really is different

Your doctor/friend/family member/the internet may very well have seen or had some experience with an employment discrimination or catastrophic injury lawsuit; or maybe they read about one in the paper or online. 

But do they know the specifics?  The nitty-gritty details that make all the difference in the outcome of a case or the value of a settlement? 

For example, do they know:

            The legal merits of the case (the technical);

            The age of the plaintiff;

            The amount of money the plaintiff was earning before the incident;

            The specific, documented injuries (financial, emotional or physical) of the plaintiff;

            The family status of the plaintiff;

            The long-term prospects for the plaintiff;

            The jurisdiction where the case was resolved;

            The demographic of the jury pool in that jurisdiction;

            The historic jury verdicts/settlements in that jurisdiction;

            The judge who was assigned to the case, and his or her leanings;

            The expert witnesses on either side of the case, and their reputations;

            The legal defenses that the other side was relying upon, and their strengths;

            The likelihood that the defense could successfully ask that the case be legally dismissed;

            The opposing attorney/law firm, and their reputation and skill level;

            The credibility of witnesses at depositions;

            The availability of favorable witnesses to actually testify at trial;

            The likeability/sympathy of the plaintiff.

These are just some of the factors that play into the assessment of the likelihood of success in a lawsuit, and the value of any potential settlement. And these are just the beginning.  There are dozens of considerations that are involved in assessing a complex case and, because the lawyers on the other side of the case are often very skilled, it is critical that many of these considerations be addressed very early on.


So, when your friend tells you about a similar case, or you read about one online, remember just how different each case is.  Keeping this in mind will help you as you move down the road.

And the next time that your doctor, friend, family member or the internet tells you how great your case is?  Smile, nod and thank them for their concern.  Then call an experienced lawyer and find out the real answer.

If you have questions, contact us today.

About the Author

Scott M. Peterson

Scott M. Peterson is the founding partner of D'Orazio Peterson, having left a partnership at a large regional law firm to limit his practice and focus on helping people protect their families.

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