Internet message boards about legal issues can be helpful for (1) general educational information; (2) looking for attorneys who seem to know what they’re talking about, so you can contact one; and (3) familiarizing yourself with issues that you could raise with an attorney when discussing potential legal rights. But message boards are usually terrible places to get ADVICE to ACT upon.

One common example of terrible message-board “advice”: the adviser who reads your question and replies you should “Go file a legal complaint with [name of govt. agency, etc.].”  Often, such advice comes from non-attorneys.  Sometimes, even attorneys will make this horrific and flip message-board statement to “Go file a complaint…”: when an attorney does this, it’s almost always someone who doesn’t practice in the area of law they are talking about.

Filing a legal complaint is not something to be taken lightly, or to be cavalierly considered after a few minutes of electronic message-boarding.  A legal complaint typically involves a long process, taking months or (often) years, with complex series of potential developments, pros and cons, costs, risks, etc.

Did the message-board person telling you to file a complaint discuss with you any SPECIFIC BENEFITS or RISKS to you for YOUR particular situation?  Probably not.  If you don’t know specifically what you could gain versus what you could risk, how can you make an informed decision to file a legal complaint?

Is the person telling you to file a complaint going to PAY for the complaint process or represent you on CONTINGENCY (where they will assume financial risk)? Will they ACCOMPANY you throughout that process? HELP you throughout that process?  If the answer is no to any of these questions, you should take their recommendation with more than a grain of salt. It takes them ten seconds to type a statement that you should file a complaint. It may take you years to complete the process they typed about.

If you are considering taking legal action, then beforehand you should consult in detail with an attorney who is experienced in that subject matter.  Typically, a lengthy phone or in-person consultation (i.e. far more information than message-posting can convey) is needed to simply evaluate whether a potential legal claim exists.  If potentially-viable legal rights exist, then more discussion is needed about the actions or legal processes that could be undertaken.  Also, discussion is needed about the potential pros and cons, what parts of the process (if any) could be managed without an attorney, or if an attorney is involved, whether an affordable or contingency arrangement is possible.

Long story short, if you follow advice from a message board, you may be assuming big risks.  Legal actions can be extremely effective for some people. But I can’t say I ever heard of a legal success story that began with a message-board adviser recommending a complaint and leaving the complainant alone in the wild.