Alexsei – Legal Memos. On Demand.

AVOIDING OPINION QUESTIONS

Why and how to avoid submitting opinion questions when using Alexsei.

All lawyers are familiar with opinion letters. We write them to formally set out our advice and recommendations on how the client should proceed. A good opinion letter summarizes the salient facts, explains the relevant law, and applies the law to the facts in order to justify a recommended course of action.

You may have noticed that Alexsei memos stop short of opining on the likely outcome of the question posed based on the facts provided. 

That is because Alexsei memos are not opinions. Rather, Alexsei memos are a tool for making the lawyer’s job easier when it comes to the aforementioned second element of an opinion letter: the explanation of the relevant law. 

The analysis in an Alexsei memo is an objective summary of the current state of the law on a given question. Think of us as your source for short textbook chapters tailored specifically to the unique issues in your cases.

That said, we receive opinion questions all the time. When this occurs, our team of research lawyers must rephrase the question to objectify it before running our AI. 

An opinion question is one that asks for anything other than an objective summary of the law. Some classic examples would be:

“Is Person A liable in negligence to Person B?”

“Did Person A breach the contract?”

Opinion questions can also be a lot more subtle than these examples. Before submitting a question, make it a practice of asking yourself whether you’re asking Alexsei to tell you what your client should do, or, whether you’re asking for the legal information needed to formulate your own opinion as to what your client should do.

That does not mean your questions cannot be specific to your client’s unique set of facts. Take the above negligence question, for example. Imagine it was submitted with facts stating the following:

Person A hired a general contractor to completely gut and renovate their home. During the demolition process, a subcontractor removed copper piping from the kitchen. With the general contractor’s permission, the subcontractor left the copper piping out on the municipal sidewalk at the front of the property so that any interested passersby could take the copper for free. That night, Person B was walking along the sidewalk and tripped and fell on the piping, which had rolled from the edge of the sidewalk to the middle of the sidewalk. Person B broke their wrist and suffered a concussion as a result of the fall. Person B has sued the city and Person A in negligence for personal injuries.

An abstracted and objective but still highly specific and informative question would be:

In what circumstances can a homeowner be held liable to third parties for injuries caused by a hazardous condition on adjacent municipal property if the hazard was created by the homeowner’s contractor in the course of construction work on the homeowner’s property?

This question can be answered objectively by reference to general principles and specific precedent cases with analogous, even if not exactly similar, facts. This is the question that you would get an answer to even if you submitted the question as, “Is Person A liable in negligence to Person B?”.

That does not mean you should submit opinion questions with the expectation that one of Alexsei’s research lawyers will do the work of abstracting and objectifying the question for you. Not only does it slow the process of completing the memo down, but any time we have to change the question it introduces the possibility of misinterpretations.

The above negligence question also could have been interpreted as a question solely about a property owner’s liability for conditions on adjacent property (without the contractor element), or as a question solely about a homeowner’s liability for a contractor’s negligence (without the adjacent property element). Neither interpretation would necessarily be wrong.

While our track record of correctly interpreting a user’s question is pretty good, it is not always obvious to us whether the question asker is focused on one sub-issue over another. The clearer the question submitted, the better and quicker the answer.

For additional tips and tricks on how to ask the best questions, check out our Guide to Asking Good Questions.