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Legal Advice vs. Legal Representation: What's the Difference?

Please note that the legal information presented on this page is intended only for those living in the state of Illinois.

Lawyers can offer a variety of services to folks seeking legal help. Typically, lawyers argue on their client's behalf in front of a judge. When a lawyer represents their client's interests in court, this arrangement is called legal representation.

While there are many free and low-cost legal resources in Chicago, some of these attorneys are unable fully represent each client in court. Instead, they can help by providing folks with legal advice.

If you are looking for family legal help in Chicago, it's important to consider the type of services an organization offers, as well as the amount of help you need.

This article explains the differences between legal advice and representation, in addition to the advantages and drawbacks of each service.

What Does 'Legal Advice' Mean?

Legal advice refers to services provided by an attorney to help folks represent themselves in court (pro se). When giving legal advice, attorneys offer their professional opinion on how a person can best resolve their legal problem.

The term legal advice covers a broad range of services, including:

  • helping you write a petition, a motion, or any other court document
  • explaining the meaning of a court order
  • drafting appeals in administrative (IV-D) cases
  • suggesting what to say, or what not to say, in court
  • developing strategies to help you win your case

Attorneys that provide legal advice often help folks more than once. You are encouraged to come back for more legal advice each time you go to court. This is to make sure you understand each new development in your lawsuit.

What Legal Advice is NOT

When you receive legal advice from an attorney, you do not enter into an attorney-client relationship with that attorney. This means that your communications with an attorney providing you legal advice are NOT privileged. In theory, anything you say to such attorney can be brought up in your lawsuit.

Additionally, you CANNOT receive legal advice from an attorney if you're receiving legal representation from another attorney in the same lawsuit. Legal advice is designed for folks who are representing themselves in court.

Lastly, attorneys are unable to provide legal advice in situations that would lead to a conflict of interest. Typically, a conflict of interest means an attorney has previously given legal advice to the other party in your court case.

Costs & Benefits of Legal Representation

Receiving full legal representation means your attorney will handle most, if not all aspects of your court case. This includes filing court documents, scheduling court dates, delivering arguments, and much more.

An attorney providing legal representation is additionally bound by the rules governing an attorney-client relationship. Importantly, this means that all communication between the lawyer and their client is privileged and cannot be brought up in court.

While full legal representation is often more costly than legal advice, some private attorneys offer a cheaper form of representation called limited scope representation.

In a limited scope arrangement, the attorney agrees to only help their client with a specific issue or task, such as drafting a single motion. Overall, limited scope representation is designed to much cheaper than full representation.

There are a few organizations that offer full legal representation to certain populations for free. Typically, these services are for individuals that are considered to live in poverty. The process to determine whose case should be accepted by these organizations can take up to several weeks. If your case is ultimately rejected, however, they will usually still provide you with free legal advice.

Costs & Benefits of Legal Advice

Most organizations that offer Chicagoans legal advice will do so for free. However, their legal advice may only be available to those earning less than a certain amount of income. Each organization has different eligibility standards.

Legal advice can often be provided through a variety of formats: whether it's an in-person meeting, over a phone call; or via text messaging, email, or Zoom.

One important consideration to make when seeking legal advice is whether you can afford to pay court fees. Since you will be representing yourself in court, you will have to pay all required court fees. If you are unable to afford your court fees, you may be able to qualify for a fee waiver.

For more information on court fees, read "When do I have to pay Court Fees?"

Finally, organizations offering free legal advice often receive a ton of requests for help. This means on any day you wish to apply for legal advice, you should expect a fairly long. Accordingly, many organizations do not accept applications from those going to court later that same day.

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