The Allergy Law Project (ALP) cautions those seeking help for food allergy accommodation issues to be wary of non-lawyer recommendations.
There are many self-proclaimed experts online offering sage-sounding legal advice - though that’s actually illegal in all 50 states - and ALP points out these individuals can cause big problems since non-lawyers don’t know what they don’t know.
The only person a non-lawyer can represent in a court of law is their self because knowing what the laws “are” does not qualify people to read cases and interpret the law. Understanding the specific definitions used to nuance legal arguments is vital for successful outcomes.
Though many of us have laughed at lawyer jokes, and roll our eyeballs over high legal fees, lawyers are held to professional standards designed to protect client rights, and prevent malpractice. Some lawyers are also required to carry insurance that safeguards the individuals they represent.
Though many legal advice givers are well-meaning, should the counsel we follow have undesirable consequences, it would be doubly upsetting to realize we relied on an expert with no ethical or professional accountability.
What if, for instance, parents question whether their food allergic child’s right to equal access is being adequately addressed by their school.
A well intentioned online expert might incorrectly determine the school is violating the law and recommend a complaint be filed with the Office of Civil Rights. The repercussions of filing the ill-advised complaint could irreparably damage the relationship between the parents and school personnel.
Even if the parent’s complaint were legitimate, taking advice from a person ignorant of the law’s subtleties could lead to the dismissal of an otherwise valid claim.
Be Wary, Be Safe
To avoid the consequences of unwise legal action, the ALP cautions us to be leery of those - whether they charge a fee or not - who post authoritatively on legal topics. Be suspicious of those who advise filing a complaint without studying the case details, or who say things such as, “This is how it was handled in a similar situation, so yours must be the same.”
If your family needs food allergy related legal counsel, your best option is to tap local resources for genuine legal advice—some lawyers offer free consultations. If finances are an issue, check with the closest legal aid center, or look for legal clinics affiliated with law schools.