Can you trust legal advice on the internet?

There are some very good resources on the internet.  For instance, I often refer people to www.acas.org.uk for information about employment law.  The internet is an easy way for an organisation to publish information to a wide audience, which can be accessed 24 hours a day.   However, as with any publication, on the internet or elsewhere, the key questions are who is producing it and why.

Some years ago, when the internet was bright and shiny, Yahoo was a market leader and I was an “early adopter” I was asked by the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers to review the largest set of forms published on the internet for consumers to use, which was being made available through Tesco.   I looked at a small selection, in an area in which I knew what I was talking about.   I was very surprised to find that several of the forms were out of date, had incorrect statements of the law and were valueless.

A lot of “free” legal resources are primarily marketing tools.  Ask yourself who is providing the service and how are they paying for it.   That doesn’t have to be simply getting you to sign up for legal services, which may well be more expensive than using a solicitor.  In many cases these won;t be provided by the name on the Homepage but contracted to third party; Saga doesn’t provide legal advice, it comes through the Sga site from Paribas. Sometimes sites like this are basically adverts for claims management companies.   For instance, Law on the Web  is ultimately owned by DAS, a large insurance company, through a company that also owns a PPI claims management business.   The business model is opaque, but appears to be based on referral fees.

Although the site says prominently that it is “featured in” the Observer, a review of its advice on Evicting Tenants in the Guardian suggested that it was both wrong and out of date.   Do you have any remedy if you follow their advice?   Have you read their small print which excludes their liability for just about everything?    Although the front of the web site shows a serious looking man who used to be a solicitor, the Terms & Conditions make it clear that “the Proprietor is not a legal advisor” and that “none of the content of the Website is intended to be taken as advice or recommendation, professional or otherwise, and should not be relied upon by you in reaching any decision or conclusion”.   That rather raises the question what you can use it for?  Answers on a postcard please.

Their documents are “fully legally approved” but they disclaim any responsibility for their use – indeed they say “our online legal guidance can be very helpful, and it is certainly worth perusing it carefully before deciding to take the extra step of seeking professional legal advice.  However, reading about the law can never compare to truly knowing the law and having the guidance of an experienced solicitor…..”.  [my emphasis]

Neil Howlett