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The Basics of Independent Legal Advice

Last Updated: October 18, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

  • Independent Legal Advice (ILA) protects your interests, verifies capacity, and ensures clear understanding of legal documents.
  • ILA can be useful when parties lack legal knowledge, one party has undue bargaining power, or in criminal cases.
  • When selecting a lawyer, consider their reputation, experience, availability, location, and ethics .

While hiring a lawyer can be pricey, being unprepared can harm more than just your finances. You can ruin your reputation by being dragged into questionable deals, waste precious time, or even face potential jail time.
Independent legal advice (ILA) is when you get legal advice separate from the other parties in your legal matter. Imagine: A small business owner teams up with a local supplier to sell products in a store. Before they start working together, they might each hire a lawyer to review the Partnership Agreement before they sign it.
Lawyers provide independent legal advice by:
  • Drafting or completing legal documents that affect the legal rights of their client
  • Negotiating legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of a party
  • Representing parties in court or another governing body
  • Filling out specific legal forms on behalf of their client
This article will cover the key elements of independent legal advice and provide valuable insights into finding the right lawyer to safeguard your legal interests.
Independent legal advice verifies your capacity and confirms that you are not signing any agreements against your will or under duress. Your lawyer can also check your legal papers to ensure you understand and sign them correctly.

To have capacity means that you are sound of mind and can sign a binding contract. Your lawyer can verify this.

Independent legal advice is necessary when more than one party involved in a legal matter needs guidance and representation to make informed decisions about their matter.
For example, when a married couple signs a Separation Agreement, it often covers things like money and property. Each spouse's lawyer will advise them on what to expect if one of them moves out of their shared home and how spousal support might impact mortgage payments during the separation. The lawyers will also review the document to ensure it is valid and easy to enforce.
LawDepot and other online legal services make it easier for you to create and print your own documents. There are times, however, when you do need a lawyer. Here are three instances when you might need more help than DIY legal services can provide.
ILA can provide proper education and enable them to be more involved with their legal matter. An independent artist posting their work online might hire a lawyer to help them file a Cease and Desist Letter against a well-known company owner after discovering that their work has been sold on shirts without their knowledge or permission.

2. One party has more bargaining power

This happens when a contract signed by the other party is unfair or oppressive to them. For example, a newlywed couple signs a Postnuptial Agreement. Later, a lawyer reveals that one spouse pressured the other into signing it, even though it would leave them with very few assets in case of a divorce.

3. In criminal matters

Though the U.S. Supreme Court does state that defendants have the right to defend themselves, those who work in the criminal justice system seldom recommend it. A lawyer can help the defendant know their rights, navigate the legal process, and make informed decisions about their defense.
While the defendant does have the right to defend themselves, it is only when they have voluntarily elected to do so. If not, a judge can deny it and require the defendant to be represented in court.
Only a licensed attorney you have a formal relationship with can give you independent legal advice. While there's no law against having qualified friends or family represent you, hiring someone not personally connected to you could be helpful, as it will help limit conflicts of interest.

Can public notaries provide ILA?

Public notaries cannot provide ILA –doing so is known as Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL). If a notary practices UPL and is caught, they can face lawsuits, fines, and loss of commission (notary certification).

How are attorney fees charged?

Independent legal advice costs are charged hourly or through flat fees:
  • Hourly fees: The lawyer charges a certain amount for each hour of work.
  • Flat fees: The lawyer charges a set amount for their services, regardless of how long it takes to complete their client’s matter.
Whether a lawyer charges an hourly or flat fee, as well as the amount charged, is based on the jurisdiction, type of legal matter, and the lawyer’s experience or education. If you are looking for a lawyer on a budget, options are available. JustAnswer allows you to easily connect with an online attorney within just 24 hours of you reaching out to them.
You can skip the long appointment wait time and avoid expensive hourly lawyer fees.

How do I choose a lawyer?

While you search for the right lawyer, consider these five key factors to ensure you make the best choice for your legal needs.
  1. Do people think highly of them, and do your trusted friends and colleagues recommend them? You can also check client reviews and state bar associations to learn what others have said about your attorney.
  2. Do they have experience? Look for a lawyer who has handled cases similar to yours. Many lawyers offer free consultations to help you decide whether they are a fit. You can check their law firm’s website for more information.
  3. Are they available to take your case? Find a lawyer who can give your case their full attention. If they have a legal team, find out who will work on your case.
  4. Where is your lawyer located? You should try to choose a lawyer who practices in your state or is licensed to practice law in your area, as laws can vary between states.
  5. Do you get along with your lawyer? It’s crucial to have mutual respect and trust in your lawyer-client relationship and to feel at ease working together.
To learn more about what to look for in a lawyer, check out our helpful article Choosing an Attorney: 10 Things to Consider.

How do I know if my lawyer is ethical?

The American Bar Association (ABA) follows 1983’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. This guide covers rules related to competent representation, the scope of representation, diligence, communication, fees, and confidentiality of information.
  • Competent representation promises that lawyers will be thorough, prepared, and have the necessary skills to provide clients with legal aid.
  • Scope of representation means lawyers must follow their client’s wishes but can never assist in fraudulent or illegal behavior. Representation does not mean the lawyer supports their client’s actions or beliefs. Lawyers can limit the scope of their assistance to their clients with their client’s permission.
  • Diligence specifies that lawyers act promptly while representing their clients.
  • Communication assures clients that lawyers will explain legal terms, keep them informed about important decisions, discuss any limits on their actions, and promptly answer their questions.
  • Lawyers will not charge or collect unreasonable fees. Instead, lawyers will base them on labor, time limitations, and if the cost is fixed or subject to change.
  • Confidentiality of information prohibits lawyers from revealing client information unless the client allows it or they have to do so to prevent harm and address conflicts.
This guides the lawyer-client relationship and helps determine if your lawyer operates ethically.
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Whether dealing with a divorce, buying a home, or starting a business partnership, getting independent legal advice can help prevent coercion, make contract terms clear, and provide an unbiased viewpoint. Choosing a reputable and ethical lawyer also ensures your needs are met, making the cost worthwhile.