Advice to Starting Law Professors: Don’t Give Advice?
posted by Dave Hoffman
Over on Prawfs, Dan Markel instigated a nice thread collecting advice to incoming professors. Something that hasn’t gotten discussed in this recent round of posts (although it has been in the past) is what a law professor should do when a student asks for help with a legal problem. This happens with some frequency to me – as a contracts teacher, I get asked a handful of times a semester to consult on a lease (for the student or a relative) or an employment agreement. I imagine that other professors get different types of questions (the property-suite of subjects is similarly vulnerable; federal courts probably isn’t).
These questions create a difficult problem for junior professors in particular. If you aren’t a member of the state bar, you obviously can not ethically practice law. Most professors have not bought malpractice insurance. Providing advice, even when insured and barred, fundamentally changes the student-teacher relationship, and may get you in a heap of trouble with the administration and students you do not help.
But failing to give students what they want can get you into trouble. And the first (and second and third) time this happens to you, you will be strongly tempted to read the lease, or parse the will, and suggest a course of action. Is there a way to let students down without creating ill-will?
In the comments to this thread, folks should feel free to (a) disclose interesting examples of requests for legal advice and how they handled it; and (b) follow-up on the issues raised when professors actually give advice.
[Topic Suggested By: Temple Law Freedman Teaching Fellow Meredith Miller, who will be joining Touro Law in the fall.]