Legal Opinion vs. Legal Advice

Language used to describe legal services may be imprecise. Even attorneys sometimes use the phrases “legal opinion” and “legal advice” interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a “legal opinion” as “[a] written document in which an attorney provides his or her understanding of the law as applied to assumed facts.”[1] This definition notes that attorneys often give legal opinions on matters such as title to real property and corporate transactions, among others. [2]

In contrast, Black’s defines “advice of counsel,” or “legal advice,” as “[t]he guidance given by lawyers to their clients.”[3] The term “guidance” is important to this definition. It points to the key difference between a legal opinion and legal advice—i.e., that a legal opinion is an attorney’s analysis based on past or present facts, while legal advice is an attorney’s counsel and guidance as to what future actions the client should take.

If what you are seeking is an analysis of the legal effect of past events or documents—for example, if you want to determine who owns a parcel of land—you need a “legal opinion.”

But if what you need is guidance on what to do in the future—such as whether to write a demand letter, dissolve a business entity, or file a suit—you should request “legal advice.”

Likewise, if an attorney offers a “legal opinion” but what you seek is future guidance, or the attorney offers “legal advice” when you want an analysis of past events, you should communicate this to the attorney to ensure that you receive the type of legal services you need.

In this way, being aware of the difference between a legal opinion and legal advice can save time and money and help you get the best legal services possible.

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th Ed., p. 1266 (2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 65.
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