Rants – Legal Advice

The purpose of my blog is not to wax eloquently about lawyering. I am a lawyer, but I would rather write about my none lawyer activities, my thoughts about the world, and Spider-Man. When my brother sent me an interesting article from New York Times Magazine about a 15 year old who was the No. 1 legal expert on AskMe.com, I felt compelled to post about the legal issues. See Michael Lewis, Faking It, 150 New York Times Magazine 32 (July 15, 2001).  The story is five years old, making this post somewhat of an untimely review.  The issue of internet, anonymity, and the law, however, are just as fresh now as they were then.

Way back in the early 00's, AskMe.com "expert" Marcus Arnold answered a hundred legal questions a day. People from all over the country liked his straightforward answers. All heck broke lose when Marcus started to question the ethics of pretending he was a 25 year old legal expert and revealed himself as a 15 year old boy who watched Judge Judy on TV. The article raises the notion that the practice of law depends upon lawyers monopolizing legal information, and the internet allows anyone, even a 15 year old, to compete with lawyers at their own information game. 

Oh the New York Times. I do read it often and even send its RSS feeds to my personalized Google homepage. Yet I wonder, is any periodical more full itself to the point of crapulence?  I enjoyed this quote from the author  "Marcus Arnold was a threat to no one but himself and, perhaps, the people who sought his advice.Yes, perhaps a 15 year old with no legal training was a threat to criminal defendants relying on his advice.
I wonder how the New York Times feels about all of those bloggers who think they are journalists. Journalism, after all, is just rehashing information with a few witty or not so witty metaphors. Add in an obscure word or two and you have a New York Times journalist. They are only a threat to themselves and perhaps the reputation of the news as unbiased.

The problem I have with the cavalier attitude of the article is that pro parties, a.k.a. people without lawyers, have no idea when they are making bad legal decisions. They file a brief, go to jail, and who is to know if fault lay in brief or the "corrupt system". As for the legal information that can be gleaned from the net, it is important to make sure it is up-to-date. No website will tell you that the laws have been amended, overturned by an appellate court, or given not-so-common sense interpretation by a government agency. Lawyering just isn't that easy, even for us lawyers.

I, and most of the lawyers I know, have no qualms with people acting as their own counsel. There really is good legal information on the net for those who find it. The courts also help advise pro se litigants as to what to file, when to file it, and how they can conduct the necessary research. The most important services a lawyer offers is not just knowledge of the law, it is counseling. Legal problems are stressful and frustrating. Lawyers provide reassurance, run interference with unsavory adversaries, and sometimes give the infamous "come to Jesus" speech, which may differ depending on your religion.
I am curious to know what Marcus is doing now. He should be about 20 years old and ready to give medical advice.   I wonder if Marcus might have difficulty entering law school or being admitted to the bar.  I wonder what he thinks about his old legal advice or all that time he spent on the computer.  Funny that all of the internet information (I found) about Marcus relates to his activities on Askme.com, specifically the New York Times article with its flattering portrayal of his legal advice giving exploits and its unflattering portrayal of his adolescent body.  If Marcus is like most of use, I think he would rather forget about life at 15. Askme.com ended its free service in 2002, so I imagine Marcus has moved on. To bad the internet hasn't.

Thanks to my bro for inspiring this post.
Huzaa to you, bro!

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