While it is possible that the internet contains the exact specific answer to your legal question, it is also possible that someone will try to murder you and your unborn child when you respond to a classified ad online for baby clothes. In the digital wild wild west, business owners need to be extraordinarily careful when relying on legal advice they find online, even from blog posts, and especially from Q&A sources like Reddit.
Below you'll find 3 useful tips to keep in mind when looking for legal answers or advice online.
1. Businesses Are Unique and Require Unique Advice
Even a cookie cutter business that sells cookie cutters will be unique because every business owner brings their own knowledge, skill, background, experience, and baggage to the table. Asking for general legal advice online is like asking a mechanic to explain how to change out an engine part in a car without telling the mechanic what kind of car you're working on. You might be able to get the job done, but you risk ruining the whole engine if you miss a step specific to your vehicle.
Unfortunately, unlike the car example, you can't provide the level of background information a lawyer needs to provide proper guidance in a sentence. Even a paragraph-long description is generally not going to be enough information. Federal, state, and/or local laws may apply, and that online legal advice may be coming from someone in a completely different state and situation.
Having an attorney on retainer that you can turn to with legal questions is the best way to ensure that your unique business is getting the right information that is tailored to your unique business needs (which is particularly important given the big changes anticipated this year).
2. You Get What You Pay For
And if you didn't pay anything for that legal advice, don't be surprised when you get into legal trouble for relying upon it.
The internet is filled with rabble-rousers that like to trick people by deliberately providing false or bad information. Not only will a lawyer retained by you be duty bound to answer your legal questions with your business's best interest in mind, they will likely be insured so that if they are grossly wrong and you lose money, you may be able to recover for malpractice.
3. A Little Bit of Knowledge Can be a Dangerous Thing
Trying to apply what you learn online could potentially lead to liability if you don't have a full understanding of how the law applies. Even though information you find online on official websites may seem safe to rely upon, doing so is dangerous as the law is rather nuanced and fact intensive. Even straightforward sounding laws may have odd applications, or be partially invalid due to a conflicting law or court decision.
For example, denying a disabled employee's request for a reasonable accommodation based upon an employer's hardship may sound straight-forward based on reading some blog posts, but in reality, it is anything but straightforward. What's more is that if you're wrong, you could be facing a costly disability discrimination lawsuit.
Using the web to get some legal advice should be done with caution, and business owners should definitely run any legal advice they get online past their real life lawyer before acting upon it.
- Find Business and Commercial Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- 3 Bad Business Tips You Should Ignore (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- 3 Lessons to Learn From Ellen Pao's Fiasco at Reddit (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Legal Questions About Running a Side Business (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)