What To Do When Friends Or Family Members Ask For Legal Advice

By Nicholas Strom

Without a doubt, at some point in a legal career attorneys will be asked by friends and family for legal advice, and they will probably want the advice for free. This puts an attorney in an awkward position. Of course, an attorney wants to help loved ones, but can the attorney dedicate the time and attention to the legal questions? Can the attorney afford to do it for free? This blog will lay out some of the considerations an attorney has to make and hopefully it will explain to family and friends who are not given advice an explanation of why an attorney might not be able to help. This post is in no way comprehensive, but only seeks to provide some relevant issues to consider.

Ethical Considerations

The first thing an attorney needs to consider when providing any legal advice is the ethical questions involved. Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct (“A.R.P.C.”) 1.1 states “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” In other words, an attorney can only provide advice if they know about the subject matter.

An attorney is not a master of all aspects of the law. If a family member asks me about a criminal question, or a friend asks about a family law question I will not be able to help. I do civil litigation. Criminal and family law are outside of my professional experience. I would not be able to provide meaningful assistance and I could not help loved ones in this situation.

Another consideration an attorney must make is conflicts of interest. “[A] lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if (1) the representation of one client will be directly averse to another client; or (2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.” A.R.P.C. 1.7.

The nightmare scenario is that a family member or friend has a potential legal issue with one of the lawyer’s existing clients. It is unlikely that family or friends know who the lawyer represents and if the inquirer asks a vague question and the attorney responds, she or he may be giving advice against her or his client inadvertently in violation of ethical rules.

These are just some of the litany of potential ethical pitfalls a lawyer may face. A lawyer has to be careful when causally responding to friends or family members legal questions. Hopefully, friends and family understand a lawyer may not be able to respond to a question because of these and other ethical considerations.

Is the attorney licensed to practice In the state?

Many Arizonans were not originally from the Grand Canyon State, including myself. If an attorney is not licensed in a particular state she or he cannot offer advice for that State. While there are exceptions, the general rule is “A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction or assist another in doing so.” A.R.P.C. 5.5.

It is important for an attorney to know where the relevant legal issue is taking place. Different jurisdictions have different laws and an Arizona attorney’s knowledge of Arizona law might be unhelpful (or even potentially the complete opposite) of another jurisdiction’s rules. If an attorney were to opine about a matter in a state she or he is not licensed in, it may be unauthorized practice of law. Practically speaking an attorney discussing legal issues in a state she or he is not licensed in is no different than asking a random person off the street.

Was an attorney-client relationship established?

Attorneys need to be careful in conversations with friends and family regarding legal questions, because they may inadvertently create an attorney client relationship. “The law has never required that the attorney-client relationship must be initiated by some sort of express agreement, oral or written.” Paradigm Ins. Co. v. Langerman Law Offices, P.A., 200 Ariz. 146, 148 (AZ S. Ct. 2001). Arizona’s current rule is that an attorney client relationship arises when someone manifests to a lawyer the person’s intent that the lawyer provides legal services for the person and the lawyer manifests to the person consent to do so.” Id. At 149. “[A]n attorney is deemed to be dealing with a client when it may fairly be said that because of other transactions an ordinary person would look to the lawyer as a protector rather than as an adversary.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “Thus, a purported client’s belief that the lawyer was their attorney is crucial to the existence of an attorney-client relationship, so long as that belief is objectively reasonable.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

Attorneys need to be weary they are not establishing an attorney-client relationship when talking with friends and family. Best practice is to make explicit there is not an attorney client relationship. Ideally, the friend or family member will understand that attorneys are highly regulated, and that the attorney is in a difficult situation when being asked legal advice.

Representing Friends or Family

If an attorney is going to provide legal advice to a friend or family member, the best practice is to formalize the interaction. The attorney should provide time for a consultation and request a formal engagement letter before representation, whether attorneys’ fees will be paid. Treating friends or family members like any other client is the best way to avoid confusion, make sure ethical standards are met and provide the best advice for friends or family members.


Providing legal advice to friends or family members can be a tricky situation for attorneys. There are ethical considerations for the attorney but also friend or family dynamics that must be kept in mind. If representing a friend or family member an attorney should follow the same best practices when representing any other client. It is crucial both the attorney and loved one clearly communicate expectations for both the potential attorney client relationship and their personal relationship.

Fowler St. Clair is a full service law firm that practices several areas of law including commercial litigation, civil litigation, personal injury and accident law, estate planning, probate, real estate and business transactions. If you have legal questions, you can always reach out and one of our trusted team members can discuss.