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Radio Attorneys and Legal Advice Columns: What Are the Risks?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 24, 2015 12:58 PM

If you speak Vietnamese and are in the Northern California area, you might have noticed a proliferation of legal advice columns and radio talk shows. These programs usually involve questions from the public followed by general legal advice from a professional.

These legal advice spots, whether in Vietnamese or otherwise, can be a good way for lawyers to raise their profile, advertise their practice, and establish themselves as an expert in the public eye. Of course, there are plenty of risks to be aware of as well.

Attorney-Client Relationships

Before you start pitching a weekly column or morning show to your local newspaper and radio, take a minute to consider the risks such free advice can have. First, there's the chance of inadvertently forming an attorney-client relationship

For example, imagine a woman calling a radio show. She explains that her new husband is a foreign citizen, that she just got her U.S. citizenship, and asks whether he can move to the United States with her. Answer generally about immigration law and marriage and you may be fine. Get too specific and suddenly your caller might claim that you're her lawyer -- after she's broken immigration law.

"Practicing" Outside Your Jurisdiction

There are also risks regarding jurisdiction. You should know just how far your words will reach before you say or write them. Even if a radio program or newspaper column is specific to an area, it may have a national or global reach if it's broadcast or reprinted over the Internet. Get too specific in your advice and you could be accused of practicing law without a license, even if you were barred in the jurisdiction where the advice was first given.

Advertising and Confidentiality

Then there are issues involving advertising and confidentiality. If your advice relates directly or obviously to your availability for representation, then make sure that it complies with the rules governing attorney advertising. Similarly, avoid discussing current or past representation -- generality is the key.

Taking simple precautions can alleviate these risks. The concerns with radio or newspaper advice are largely similar to those with attorney blogging and social media use. A little caution and care can help you get your voice out there, while also covering your behind.

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