Lawyers Share The Strangest “Would It Be Illegal If I…” Questions They’ve Ever Received
Being a lawyer comes with plenty of responsibilities, but the main one is doing everything in your power to serve your client (i.e., get them out of trouble). Most people know how to stay on the right side of the law, but some, whether they’re engaged in legally tricky businesses or just plain clueless, seem to constantly wind up in trouble for the weirdest reasons. You’d think that most lawyers would take on any client they can find as long as it means billable hours. Yet some requests for advice from attorneys are so extreme and bizarre it’s hard to believe they’re even real.
We’re talking about things like lighting someone’s house on fire, sticking a knife in someone (with their consent, of course), or a plot to poisoning a neighbor that involves live chickens. Still, the lawyers of Reddit have faced these and many more. Check out some of the oddest “is this legal?” questions they’ve ever received!
#25 Yeah, That’s Not Suspicious At All
A client’s wife got the house in the divorce. Husband asks, “So, the insurance on the house lapsed. If it just happens to randomly burn down one night, she’d end up with nothing, right? Look, I’m not saying I’m going to do anything, I mean stuff happens sometimes. There’s no way the court would blame me, right?”
I withdrew from the case shortly after.
#24 Stalker’s Loophole
I had a client who was 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.
#23 Interesting Case Of Insurance Fraud
“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.
#22 Suing Over Soup
The strangest thing was a guy asking me if he could sue a famous soup company because a little bit of the wrapper got in the soup when he was cooking it. Not just a random friend or something, this guy scheduled an appointment with my office, showed up for the appointment and asked. He was ready to sue.
#21 Are You Aware Perjury Is A Crime?
A stunning amount of clients don’t understand that you can’t lie in court.
“Well, what if I just put the money in my mom’s account and testify that I don’t have any?”
“Well, that would be a violation of discovery rules, a violation of a duty of candor to the tribunal, a violation of bad faith, and false statement/perjury. So you’d go to jail and I’d lose my bar license.”
“Oh. Well, what if I put it in my DAD’S account?”
#20 Eccentric Treasure Hunt
This is kind of a fun one. I do a lot of probates 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 backyard (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.
#19 Using False Confidentiality For Back-Door Dealing
A good friend 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 backdoor to using him as a tool in the substance dealing business.
#18 This Is Illegal. Probably.
A dude once walked into my office with ONLY his shirt covered in blood. He said he needed to speak to any of the lawyers, so they send me.
He sits down in the conference room and looks straight up at me. He raises an eyebrow and says to me, “is it illegal to stab someone with their consent?”
I give him a short answer and 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.
#17 Sounds Like A Good Prank, Though
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.
#16 Creepy Cat Lawsuit
I was asked if they could sue their ex for pooping on their cat.
#15 A Robotic Romance
In my experience, 95% of the time they already know the answer. And about 50% of the time they’ve already violated the law. And about 10% of the time they haven’t violated the law they’re asking me about, but in my questioning to get to the bottom of things they’ve violated some other law in the process of violating or trying not to violate the law they originally asked me about. Strangest though? Two completely separate people asking about the legality of sex with a machine/robot in a two-week span. You do you, robot lovers.
#14 Layaway Lawsuit
In 2006, a lady wanted to sue a famous big box store because they refused to let her use layaway. My response: “Didn’t they just announce they were getting rid of their layaway program?”
#13 Are Christmas Decorations Protected Speech?
A lady once called my office asking whether having Christmas lights on the outside of her car was protected speech under the First Amendment.
#12 Coming Home To Roost
A friend of mine had a neighbor with a noisy rooster. He asked me whether it would be murder if he poisoned the chickens and the owner ate them and died.
#11 The Answer Is ‘No’
Everyone wants to know the precise limits of “self-defense,” to the point of:
“Hi, Sam, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Oh. So if someone called me a jerk and I punched them, would it be self-defense?”
#10 You Technically Can’t Buy Your Way Out
I’m a criminal defense lawyer. A client, on the wrong side of the glass in the courtroom holdover cell asks: “If I pay you enough, can we get this case dismissed?”
Me: “No. No, you cannot.”
#9 Insane Reverse-Eviction Scam
I worked in a law office that dealt with property disputes briefly. There was this guy that had been evicted from his condo with no notice because it was bought without his knowledge by a new company (he was leasing). I overheard the company rep ask the lawyer if they could write up a new lease with new rent and everything for him after evicting. The lawyer just stared at them.
#8 Pretty Gross, My Dude
I got a phone call from a bar at 1 a.m. It was an ex-needing to know the age of consent. Classy stuff.
#7 Take Some Personal Responsibility, Good Grief
A guy in jail charged with driving with a revoked license (this violated his probation) blames the car impound for giving him the keys to the car (after he went and signed to have it released to him).
I had to break it to him that he knew his license was revoked and he went and paid and signed to get the car released, got into the car, started it, and drove off.
#6 Rescuing A Kidnapped Cat
One time 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 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 and was referred elsewhere.
#5 Escaping Back To Prison?
I had a client who stole $100,000 from an elderly man who was in love with his (defendant’s) mother. After he pled out and spent a month in jail, which by the way he LOVED because it motivated him to lose weight and was a break from his nagging kids, he returned to our firm and asked how much time he would be looking at if, after he’s done with probation, he did it all again.
#4 Can You Help Me Get Out Of Paying Taxes?
Not exactly a “would it be illegal” hypothetical, but my firm corresponded with a potential client who just seemed totally oblivious.
We received an email inquiry about company incorporation and a lawyer responded with a quote and the required details we would need to go forward, including a description of the planned business activities. The potential client sent a reply telling us the company would not be doing any business and it was for “tax reasons.” We explained that even if it was for tax planning purposes, a company incorporating in our jurisdiction needs to indicate its business activities. Finally, he emailed back to the lawyer saying “Ok, I think we have a misunderstanding here. I’m looking to do TAX EVASION“. Yup.
#3 Avoiding ‘Under The Table’ Consequences
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 benefits 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 lies to tell a government agency in order to access public funds.
#2 That’s Actually Pretty Clever
Would it be illegal to ask a judge who has just said, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” to recite from memory all the laws of the land?
#1 Outrunning Social Services
No, you cannot leave the state with your children when you have an open social services case. Yes, you will be arrested if you do so.