Lawyers get asked stupid questions all the time, especially from their clients. It's only when those questions veer into illegal territory that these lawyers get the sudden urge to slam their palm against their face in defeat. There's nothing better for a legal professional than a client who doesn't seem to get what "self-incrimination" means.
We searched through Reddit for the dumbest, least thought out questions a client ever posed to a lawyer and found plenty of stories featuring questions that should have stayed inside the asker's head. Content has been edited for clarity.
"I was at a meeting of companies in a citywide industry to discuss how they should handle increased costs of business and lack of market power. One owner stood up and suggested that they all just agree to raise their prices and all charge the same price, and everyone would keep tabs on everyone else to make sure that no one charges less than that.
Um, no. That's criminal price fixing."
Dave Clark Digital Photo/Shutterstock
"'Would it be illegal if I purposefully wrecked my car for the insurance money?' YES. IT IS.
'Why though? It's my car! I should be able to do with it what I want as long as no one gets hurt.'
Uh, well, it's not illegal to destroy your own property, but car insurance doesn't cover intentional damage. If you lie to an insurance company to get a payment you're not entitled to, that's fraud. And that's definitely illegal.
'...Well, how would they know?'
I gave up."
"In college, my brother and his friends would do some deep thinking on this subject after many hours of drinking. They would then call the police non-emergency line and play 'ask an officer.'
The best one I remember was: is it illegal to eat a dog? The officer said she didn't know, but not to. The next day brother received numerous calls from different shelters and charities offering to take his dog.
My brother didn't own a dog."
"I was eating lunch and this girl opened a can of soup, one of those fat cans with the chunky bits.
She pulled out a giant branch, turns to me and said, 'Can I sue for this?'
I said sure. You would win, too, as letting a large stick like that through the machine is clearly negligent. I then asked her if she bit it and chipped a tooth or something.
Then your damages are the value of a can of soup. Are you still going to eat the soup?
You get no damages."
"Everyone wants to know the precise limits of 'self defense,' to the point of:
Them: 'Hi, what do you do for a living?'
Me: 'I'm a lawyer.'
Them: 'Oh. So if someone called me a jerk and I punched them, would it be self defense?'
I get those every time. But probably the strangest questions relate to fan fiction, though.
There are definitely a lot of questions related to making money, but more relate to in-fiction scenarios that the writers want to be accurate. Some examples of the questions they ask me are:
'I'm writing a fictional story and I'm killing x character. Who will get Person X's money?'
'Person Y in my fictional story is a minor. If I want to have Person Y run off with Person Z, what could Person Y's parents do about it?"
'I'm writing a fictional story about a real person. Can they sue me if I make them have gay relations with another real person in my book?"
'Can Batman actually do these things and not get arrested?'
The answer is almost always that it depends. Except for Batman. The answer for Batman is typically, 'No, but who's going to arrest Batman?'"
"I do a lot of probate and estate planning, and I had a guy who wanted to know if it would be legal for him to take money and other valuable possessions and then divide them up into a bunch of waterproof metal boxes and bury them in his back yard (it was more of a pasture - 3 or 4 acres). Then, he was going to leave his three kids each a metal detector to be given to them at his wake. Whatever they found, they got to keep.
Technically, at least in my state, it's legal. That doesn't mean that it's not an absolutely terrible idea."
"I'm a lawyer. A friend of mine has a brother, we'll him call Craig, and Craig has a friend named Dave. Craig called me up one day asking for advice on the following: Craig and Dave are long-time friends who went to elementary school and are now in their late 40's/early 50's. Dave got divorced. After the divorce, Dave 'met' a woman online who lives in Australia but is originally from Wales and is financially loaded and gorgeous, not to mention 20 years younger than Dave. And they soon fell in love online. She wanted to move back to Wales to open up an orphanage for children she will be bringing back from Australia. She and Dave get quite involved and Dave decided he was going to sell all of his belongings and his house in America and move down to Australia to surprise her without telling her.
So at roughly the time Dave was going to fly down to Australia, there was some kind of hurricane or other disaster that hits one part of Australia, although not the part Dave's Welsh lady friend lives in. So Dave arrived in Australia and his lady friend was stuck on the other side of the country. Dave met one of her friends who is a middle-aged woman, roughly Dave's age, who lived in kind of a rundown house in the middle of nowhere. The Welsh lady got tied up for what turned into weeks but she kept in contact with Dave. Dave was running low on money, so he got Craig to wire him $2,000. Completely coincidentally, the Welsh woman had an amazingly beautiful sister who was a rich and powerful lawyer. The sister was introduced to Craig online via Dave. Craig and the second Welsh woman fell in love and Craig decided he now wanted to move to Australia to help them move the orphans from Australia to Wales. Craig sold a bunch of his personal property and drove five hours to meet a private jet sent to him by his amazingly beautiful, Welsh attorney girlfriend. The plane didn't show after he'd waited in a hotel several days. He then got a call from Dave.
Dave told him the whole thing was a scam and that the middle-aged woman he'd been staying with was actually catfishing both of them with the fake profiles of the Welsh women. Turns out Dave suspected as much when he asked Craig to wire him the money but didn't want to say anything.
Craig's legal questions to me: 1. Can I sue the woman that Dave went to visit in Australia, uninvited, for his $2k loan to Dave; and 2. Can I sue the Australian government because shouldn't they be liable for the actions of their citizens?
I need to find a better catfishing lawyer for Craig."
"A good friend of mine is a lawyer. While we were on a guy's weekend abroad, he got a text, went quiet and texted something back. I asked if it was work related, and yes, it was a client who wanted his lawyer to pass on some information about where the client had hidden his stash. My friend responded simply, 'Sorry, I think you understand that I can't do that.'
The client stupidly thought that the lawyer's confidentiality was a back door to using him as a tool in the illicit dealing business.
"I'm a law student. There was a recent case in our country where a guy kidnapped an 8-year-old kid, took advantage of her and then killed her. Had it's fair amount of share in the media for quite a while. As the blood thirsty people we are, immediately people started trends on social media that he should be given to the public, we should torture the heck out of him etc. Nothing too unusual.
Then a family relative asked me if it would be legal, 'If we forced the guy to have a gender reassignment surgery and then force him to promiscuous late night work so that the money we receive from there could be given to female students.' It was obviously one of the easiest HECK NO'S in my life. It also freaked me out. Luckily, the relative then told me that it wasn't her idea but a celebrity suggested it so she asked 'just in case.'"
"Okay, so this guy walks into my office with his shirt covered in blood. Says he needs to speak to any of the lawyers, so they send me. He sits down in the conference room. Looks straight up at me. Raises an eyebrow and says to me: 'Is it illegal to stab someone with their consent?' I give him a short answer and half a long answer.
He smiles and nods, leaves the room, and passes the receptionist the equivalent of about $40 in cash and leaves... we don't charge for first time consultations.
To clarify, it wasn't actually the QUESTION which was the weirdest one I got, it was more of his behavior and appearance coupled with that question that made the situation the strangest."
"When I was a new lawyer, one of my high school friends was fixated on the idea that by paying a parking meter, you were renting that space and could exclude everyone else from it. He wanted to know if he paid for three hours on the meter, could he just leave the spot open but get people towed out of it (essentially 'evicting' them). I tried to explain that an eviction isn't just calling up the sheriff and having someone forcibly removed; it's a court case and it takes some time.
He kept trying to press me to answer that yeah, you could exclude someone from the spot. Never mind that it's not your property and it's not a leasehold interest in that land, he just wanted me to agree with him. It started out as just kind of a silly question, but I think he was actually a little too tied up with the idea."
"The client is the subject of a Protective Order prohibiting him from being within 100 feet of the protected person. He tells me he has a laser rangefinder and makes sure he is complying by taking line of sight measurements of his distance from her. By bouncing the laser off her.
I had to tell him that is literally compliant but worse in the mind of the court than just not complying. Please either stop doing that or raise more money to deal with the storm coming when she notices the laser dot on her."
"A guy in my concealed carry class was asking a lot of crazy hypotheticals about when he could pull out on someone and when he could shoot. One night, he brought in a gym bag that had duct tape and zip ties (among other weird stuff) and was asking about the legality of effecting a citizen's arrest and the legality of putting the duct tape over the suspect's mouth after the suspect's hands were zip tied. I really hope that dude is on a watch list somewhere.
He had a van and wondered if he detained someone, how long he could hold them in the van before informing the police. He didn't have a cell phone because he didn't want the government tracking him and with the disappearance of payphones, he was really worried about how long it would take to get the cops involved."
"My law professor has some good stories that he sometimes shares with us, one of them was a former student of his that asked him if he could sue this girl he had a crush on for not accepting a brand new car he got her.
She didn't have a license, she couldn't afford the tax on it, and she wasn't interested in him. The former student apparently spent his semester tuition as down payment for the car, too."
"For a while, I worked at a legal organization in an office near reception, so I overheard most of the conversations. A woman claimed that someone she knew (I forget the relationship) somehow stole her cat and was now taunting her with photos of the cat that said, 'Ha Ha Ha, I have your cat' and she wanted to know if it was legal for her to enter the apartment by any means necessary to retrieve the cat. I know that sounds like a prank, but if it was she was pretty freaking convincing in how distraught she sounded. Honestly, the place is a magnet for drama and crazy so it really wasn't surprising to get a call like this.
Needless to say, she couldn't be helped- the org doesn't handle those types of issues- and was referred elsewhere.
"I'm not a lawyer, but a criminologist in training. In my country, having weed up to a gram as an adult without circumstances that make it a crime is 'tolerated.' That means you will not be prosecuted in criminal court for possession of weed up to a gram on your person. That does not make it legal or allowed. It is just not prosecuted. How many times I have had to explain the difference to friends...
That means they CAN and WILL give you an administrative fine. Smoking in public IS illegal and is a circumstance that will make you eligible for prosecution.
So yes, they will take away your weed."
"My client asked if it would be legal to go to the police station and claim a duffle bag left in an abandoned car that had an ounce of his pot in it.... I practice in Texas...
My client's girlfriend and her friend were driving home from a bar one night. They are both wasted and decide to take a route through a quiet neighborhood with a golf course in hopes of avoiding cops. The road travels alongside one of the fairways of the course. Along side this stretch of fairway near the road are 2 foot high pylons spaced about 10 feet apart and connected with a links of chain. The pylons establish the outer boundary of the course and they are sturdy. Imagine a hollow steel pipe about 3 inches in diameter filled with concrete and set in the ground in a concrete foundation. They are made to slow down or stop cars from entering the course and the girlfriend found out that they serve their purpose. The girlfriend hits a speed bump too fast, loses control and ends up beaching her VW Jetta on one of the pylons. Both girls panic and flee the scene. They call Client and he picks them up and they all abandon the car.
The next morning, the girlfriend gets a call from the police that they found her car and asking her if she had any knowledge etc. The girlfriend makes up something about losing control and not knowing what to do. The police can't charge her because they have no proof that she was drinking. But you know what the stupid question concerns: the pot.
You see, the girlfriend's friend left her overnight bag in the backseat of the car. In the overnight bag was an ounce of pot that she, client, and girlfriend had just purchased together. The lot of them (now on speaker) literally asked me if they could go down to the police station and ask for their pot back 'since it was theirs.' They asked me if it was legal to claim their pot at the police station. The obvious answer was no, but it actually took me five minutes to get them all to understand why. They kept insisting that it was 'their pot' and that the cops would have to give them their property... They gave potheads a bad look that day."
"I had a client who told me that they had previously worked "under the table" in another country. Now they were back and wanted to apply for a benefit but the benefit office required them to declare any employment they had held previously. Believing that the government of the other country may find out about them not paying tax, they wanted to know if they should say the work they did was voluntary work experience or say they have no work experience at all.
In summary, they had worked illegally in another country, avoided paying tax, and now wanted advice on what lie to tell a government agency in order to access public funds.
Most 'would it be illegal' questions don't come from clients, they come from family and acquaintances who are trying to avoid needing a lawyer. I've been asked, 'I think someone is snooping around my property because they claim I owe them money, would it be illegal if I set traps like hidden barbed wire in the garden?'
Yes, also you have pets that wouldn't know to avoid those traps so think that one through.
'Would it be illegal if I told the government that my business isn't paying me anything and I just use the business account to pay for things?'
Most of the time if you feel like you need to ask a lawyer, then it's going to be illegal."