Why indeed. We've used a marketing piece for some time that explains the “what” of FALDP, among other statements, it says: “FALDP is an industry leader – empowering the people – and working everyday to make Florida a better place to live”. I believe those words are true, I fervently hope that we are, in fact, making Florida a better place to live.
But, why? Why did we form FALDP? Why is there a need for us? What is our reason to be? Our raison d'être ? The phrase, « find your why » has been bandied about of late, and has sunk from a catch phrase to a cliché by now. But, phrases become over used for a reason. Its because they resonate, hit a nerve, and yes, sometimes the last nerve.
The simple reason we exist is that people need us. People need document preparers. Not want, need. Our services are steadily in demand.
''You can't fight for your rights if you don't know what they are .'' Chief Justice John Roberts
''One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues/.''
Low knowledge of essential facts
The 2018 Annenberg civics knowledge survey, released for Constitution Day (Sept. 17), found that many people do not know how the branches of government work:
- A quarter (27 percent) incorrectly said the Constitution allows the president to ignore a Supreme Court ruling if the president believes the ruling is wrong;
- But a slim majority (55 percent) knows that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is the law and must be followed, about the same as last year.
Why am I telling you this? And what does this have to do with FALDP? We're document preparers, we don't need to know about rights? Oh, really?
We can't give legal advice … but, the fact is that everybody gives everybody legal advice all the time.
- Don't drink and drive;
- Wear your seat belt;
- As an employer or landlord, you should not discriminate based on gender, race, or national origin. Its against the law;
What is Legal Advice?
Court users are asking for legal advice when they ask whether or not they should proceed in a certain fashion. Telling a member of the public what to do rather than how to do it may be giving legal advice. Legal advice is a written or oral statement that:
Interprets some aspect of the law, court rules, or court procedures;
Recommends a specific course of conduct a person should take in an actual or potential legal proceeding; or
Applies the law to the individual person’s specific factual circumstances.
What is Legal Information? Clerks and court personnel may:
Provide public information contained in dockets, calendars, case files, indexes, and other reports.
Recite common, routinely-employed court rules, court procedures, administrative practices, and local rules, and explain generally how the court and judges function.
Refer self-represented litigants to a law library or the court’s website for statutes, court rules, or forms.
Explain the meaning of terms and documents used in the court process.
Answer questions concerning deadlines or due dates (without calculating due dates).
Identify and refer self-represented litigants to court forms.
According to Find Law:
What Legal Advice Is
Advice from friends or family does not constitute legal advice. True legal advice forms an agreement between an attorney and his or her client based on a particular legal matter the client is experiencing.
In a nutshell, legal advice has the following characteristics:
- Requires legal knowledge, skill, education and judgment
- Applies specific law to a particular set of circumstances
- Affects someone's legal rights or responsibilities
- Creates rights and responsibilities in the advice-giver
Unlike legal information - such as information posted on a street sign - legal advice proposes a specific course of action a client should take. For instance, it's the difference between telling someone what to do (legal advice) as opposed to how to do it (legal information).
- Selecting, drafting, or completing legal documents or agreements that affect the legal rights of a person
- Representing a person before a court or other governing body
- Negotiating legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of a person
- Speculating an outcome
- Selecting or filling out specific forms on behalf of a client
Specific legal advice questions may include:
- Should I file for bankruptcy?
- Does my disability qualify for federal assistance?
- What kind of recovery can I receive for my accident? injuries
What Legal Advice is Not
While legal advice is specific, direct, and proposes a course of action, legal information, on the other hand, is factual, generic, and does not address any one particular cause of action. To help avoid the confusion that often comes with legal information, websites and individuals will often go to great lengths to clarify that any information contained in their site should not be construed as legal advice nor form an attorney-client relationship.
Examples that do not constitute actual legal advice:
- Legal information obtained from free online legal websites, including a law firm or attorney's own website
- Advice from friends, family members, or former clients of a lawyer
- Information you hear on the radio
- Information you read on social media websites
- Information you see in news periodicals or on billboards
- Responses to legal questions posted in online Q&A boards, even if provided by a licensed attorney
- Printed materials listed in a "how to" guide
- Legal "self help" forms
Specific legal information questions might include:
- Where can I find the Federal Medical Leave Act?
- What does the acronym EEOC mean?
- What are the gun laws in my state?
Yes. I think everyone is confused, including the courts. As an experienced document preparer I can point to many instances where a court clerk most certainly has told a pro se litigant what form to file. It happens all the time. So, as nonlawyers, the clerks of court, routinely select forms for pro se litigants, even though selecting forms for pro se litigants is a prohibited act.
And, do we ignore a customer's request for advice? Yes, but, the technique is to turn their request for advice into a request for information and then point them to the information. Is this word play -- semantics? Yes.
Think about these scenarios:
A customer comes to you and says that the landlord won't fix the leaking roof. And that customer asks you what he should do. Beware the “should” word. Telling someone what they should do might be giving legal advice. A better practice, particularly if you frequently prepare documents for landlord/ tenant issues, is to point him to a source of information, like Top 10 Landlord Legal Responsibilities in Florida , let the customer explore his options.
Another customer comes to you because she has been served a complaint for a past due credit card debt. She says that she knows she owes the debt, but it was years ago, and she thought the credit card company had written it off. It is helpful to know the following:
Florida’s statute of limitations varies for different types of debts. For written contracts such as personal loans, the statute of limitations is five years. So once this type of debt is more than five years past due, the lender can no longer sue in order to collect owed money. For other debts, the statute is shorter. Oral contracts and revolving accounts such as credit cards have a statute of limitations of four years.
And point your customer to that information. However, that information isn't quite enough, because the pro se litigant must bring up the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in their Answer. That information is in the Florida Statutes and can also be found here - https://blog.credit.com/2019/07/seven-ways-to-defend-a-debt-collection-lawsuit-62166/
In my experience, I've found that pro se litigants can figure out the basic substantive law. It is procedural law that stymies them. And, its my understanding that we can explain procedure providing we don't cross over the boundary between explaining procedure, into using procedure as strategy. We can explain what comes next, procedurally, as in: after the defendant/ respondent is properly served he has 20 days to file an answer. But, to tell a pro se defendant / respondent that instead of filing an answer, as long as he files something within 20 days, may be using procedure as strategy.
The reason FALDP exists is to help consumers and pro se litigants navigate the court system; and provide a hub for Florida document preparers. We're proud of what we do, mainly because we think we're helping make Florida a better place to live.