Sebastian at SNBQ (aka PA Gun Blog) points out the some bloggers out there are giving people legal advice that could very well land them in Cold Stone College on the long course. Everybody we know who’s ever been to prison (most of whom were either helping keep the denizens on ice, or dropping new ones off), says, literally, “don’t go there,” and it’s hard to imagine a faster or more dependable way to go there than by taking legal advice — about guns, where every paperwork violation is a serious felony — from some random schmo with a blog.
And yes, it’s fairly meta that we’re random schmoes with blogs and we (and as Seb points out, some other schmoes) are telling you don’t take legal advice from guys like us. But really, don’t.
Both Thirdpower and John Richardson are speaking about an assertion that’s appeared in the blogosphere that Illinois is now a Constitutional Carry state. I’d take anything you hear on the Internet (and I don’t exempt myself from this) as pretty much the polar opposite of actual legal advice. In other words, don’t think because a blogger says you can do X, that means it’s OK to actually go out and do it.
So who do you take legal advice from? That’s easy. Lawyers. And not lawyers on the Internet, even genius law professors like Glenn Reynolds or Eugene Volokh. Power users of the legal profession know this, but people who seldom interact with the law or courts don’t.
Rock bottom line: if you’re about to take some action which may have legal consequences, you need your own lawyer. He or she has to be a real lawyer, with a law school sheepskin and a certificate of admission to the Bar in your state, as well as, for gun laws, the federal bar. (The Supreme Court bar is nice, but you don’t need that… yet. Many lawyers seek admission to the Supreme Court bar as an ego trip, and will never argue a case or file a brief there. still, that certificate on the wall is a marker of your attorney’s professional pride).
How to find a lawyer? Don’t respond to an ad, especially a TV ad. Those are not the law droids you seek. Despite the hordes of attorneys out there, relatively few are experts in gun law; even in populous states, you can often count the true experts on your fingers. So, many people chooose to rely on a state pro-gun organization or gun club for recommendations, and this usually works out well.
Here’s another way that works, and it applies more generally, out beyond the gun-law ghetto. Figure out what your legal question or problem is, and what kind of lawyer addresses it. A wills-and-trusts guy? A criminal lawyer? A litigator? Then ask your local bar association for attorneys that practice in this area. They’ll give you whatever three or so names come up. What we do then is pay that lawyer to answer one question:
Who would you call if you had a problem in this field of law?
Some lawyers will not bill you for answering a simple question like that. In that case you should offer to make a donation to a charity of his or her choice. Get the three names from the three lawyers the bar association threw you. You should see a pattern emerge. (In one memorable case, the first lawyer, call him A, said he was the best, but he’d never represent himself so he’d want X, Y or Z. B and C both put A first and each added a recommendation for X, and one also plumped for Z. We hired A).
It seems like this is wasteful and costly, but not so much as having the second team in the courtroom. One added benefit: if you do this in an actual meeting with the attorneys, even though you pay for their time, it’s money well spent if you have a counterparty to the potential litigation: because they may be locked out of representing your counterparty. For that reason, you want to meet with all of your best-talent picks if you can, and discuss the case. Wasteful? Not if you’ve taken all the top talent off the adverse party’s team for the price of an hour each. (Don’t be too overt about doing this. Lawyers hate this).
But hey, that’s legal advice from a blogger. And legal advice only is worth listening to if it’s (1) from a real lawyer; (2) from your lawyer; and, (3) paid for. If you didn’t get a bill for it, better not act on it.
And one more word of lawyer-user advice: it is far, far less costly to run something by an attorney in advance, than it is to wing it and wind up in a “Better call Saul!” situation. An attorney will also be happier to help you avoid indictment or other legal entanglement, than to help you manage the fallout if such woes betide you. Many of the problems that bedevil attorneys’ clients would never occur if the lawyers had been asked for their counsel beforehand.