Every law-related mailing list has its cast of characters: those who answer questions, those who simply lurk, and those who ask questions. A list depends upon the interchange among its subscribers; it wouldn’t exist without the give-and-take of information. Most of those who ask the questions are a reasonable lot, framing their questions intelligently and even taking time to pose queries that will not identify and pinpoint serious gaps in their ability to practice law. Mailing lists can be vast sources of information on just about any topic under the sun, but they do have their boundaries. Those who answer the questions have limits on the quantity of information they’re willing to dole out for free.
And then there are those who just can’t help looking dumb, practically committing malpractice while they post messages like these:
I have a trial tomorrow, and I need to know about mandamus. Is there a Dummies’ Guide?
I do family law in Illinois, and I need to know the Illinois law on visitation. Please email ASAP or call me on cell and leave code – 519-771-6666.
I don’t have a Westlaw or Lexis account. Could someone please find this case for me?
Do these lawyers really expect others on a mailing list to do all of their work for them? Are they lazy or just plain stupid? Clients can find out what a lawyer has posted to a mailing list. So, too, can opposing counsel and even judges. Even if a list’s archived messages aren’t publicly accessible, it’s not that hard to gain access to a restricted list’s archives. Or to expect that a leak in even the most tightly-controlled list just might forward that message on to an interested party.
Posting to a mailing list takes no effort and little intelligence, but structuring an inquiry that doesn’t reveal every detail, exposing the poster to ridicule and liability, does require a modicum of effort and good sense. Mailing lists can serve to explain, illuminate, debate, direct, and even play devil’s advocate, but they should be no substitute for basic concepts involved in the practice of law or earnest research.