By Stuart Cameron
As seen in the June edition of B2B Magazine
We live in the Information Age, where access to previously unobtainable information is available at the stroke of a key. We look to the world wide web to answer every question and now with the rise of YouTube and video blogs, we can be experts in just about anything. A very common example of this, one I am sure we are all guilty of, is self-diagnosing. When we are sick, we are more likely to Google information about the symptoms and come up with our own diagnosis, before attending upon our trusted GP. This same mentality applies when confronting a legal issue. There are a range of websites, blogs and social media platforms available that provide access to information about every legal issue imaginable.
In the context of family law matters, the proliferation of legal “advice” on the internet has increased substantially in recent years. The average citizen experiencing a relationship breakdown can easily access information on the internet that purports to explain the Court process, assist drafting legal documents and providing “tips” on how to represent yourself at a trial. Having access to this information can be both beneficial but also dangerous. It can be a source of empowerment for the individual, yet it can also create false expectations or misrepresent what options are actually available.
The family law information available on the internet comes from a range of different sources. Anybody from an experienced family lawyer, a legal academic or a lay person can freely post whatever opinions they consider worthy. There is often no way of checking whether the advice being offered is accurate, reliable or appropriate. This can have dire consequences if the reader relies on that advice, particularly in the context of making sensitive post-separation decisions, that could have substantial consequences for the future. In a forum where the voice of a disgruntled family law litigant can speak with the same authority as a member of the Judiciary, there are always risks associated with filtering the information shared. Deciding what is reliable is a task beyond the average citizen. Relying on that information when making significant decisions can be fraught with danger.
With any legal dispute, receiving good legal advice at an early stage can provide a strong platform from which to resolve the dispute amicably and efficiently. In the same way that turning to the internet to diagnose a medical condition has its shortcomings, relying on publicly available legal information can be just as perilous.