The dangers of informal advice

The dangers of informal advice

In what circumstances can a casual conversation turn in to legal advice? We ask a panel of experts for their thoughts on how lawyers can navigate around the perils of informal advice.

The panel

Peter Steel, partner at Bevan Brittan LLP

Richard Moorhead, Professor of Law and Ethics at University College London

Mark Stobbs, director of legal policy at the Law Society

When does a chat down the pub turn in to legal advice?

Peter Steel: Being asked for informal advice by family and friends is an everyday occurrence for solicitors and other legal professionals. Providing some guidance or advice in such a context is unlikely to cause any problem, but that is not to say it is an entirely risk-free activity. Clearly, there is unlikely to be a formal retainer in such circumstances (though if there were, the informal setting would not relieve the solicitor in question from their Chapter 1 or ‘know your client’ obligations, or indeed any other restrictions on accepting clients imposed by the SRA Code of Conduct or his or her firm or employer).

The law in this jurisdiction does not provide any hard and fast guidance as to when the proverbial chat down the pub becomes legal advice (in the sense of creating obligations between the solicitor and whoever he or she is advising), but there may be some help in the line of cases stemming from Caparo Industries v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605, [1990] 1 All ER 568 and Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465, [1963] 2 All ER 575.

Where a solicitor has assumed responsibility towards someone he advises to the extent that he or she owes them a duty of care, there may also be an inference that the solicitor has assumed some or all of the normal professional obligations he or she would owe to a client. BBCI (Overseas) Ltd (in liquidation) v Price Waterhouse [1998] Lloyd's Law Rep (Banking) 85 sets out the factors

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