Is Your Problem a "Legal" Problem?

Many people do not realize that their problems are “legal” and so they do not consider “legal” solutions to resolve them, according to recent research.  Instead, people are likely to see their problems as simply bad luck or “a part of life”, moral problems, social problems, or private problems.  The result is that they either do “nothing” about them or resort to self-help, which provides limited solutions to their problems.  

So that begs the question: what makes a problem “legal”?

1. "Legal” means your problem involves a law (and not just the criminal type). 

We have a lot of laws and many of them affect us in personal ways.  For example, there are laws that govern our work relationships (e.g., is this appropriate behavior from my boss?), personal relationships (e.g., do I need to update my will to add my new baby?) and even the things we order from a restaurant (e.g., a piece of shell in that clam chowder chipped my tooth, shouldn’t the restaurant pay for my dentist bill?).

Since we have so many laws that govern our everyday activities and relationships, an everyday issue can often become a “legal” problem.  

2.  A “legal” problem means that somebody has rights and somebody else has obligations.     

Generally speaking, a law can require a person or entity to act (e.g. you must pay for food purchased) or to refrain from acting (e.g., you cannot assault a public bus driver).  If the law is not followed, a person or entity may have rights to enforce it.  

For example, let’s say you are renting a home.  The toilet in your home stops working.  Let’s say there are laws that require the landlord to make sure that the home is suitable to live in.  It’s been two months and your landlord refuses to fix the toilet.  You may have a right to force the landlord to fix the toilet because the home is not suitable to live in without a working toilet!   

As a side note, not every legal problem has sufficient reasons or evidence to take formal legal action such as a lawsuit.  However, there are other actions that can be taken that are not formal proceedings but involve the law.  For example, a letter to the landlord letting him know of his obligations under the law may be enough for him to fix the toilet. 

3.  A “legal” problem has “legal” solutions that can help. 

A legal problem that goes into formal legal proceedings generally comes with “legal” solutions that are set by the law.  In the legal world, they are called “remedies.” These solutions vary and will depend on the specific law and circumstances, but may include:

  • Money (e.g., monetary damages);
  • A court forcing someone to do something (e.g., specific performance); or
  •  A court prohibiting someone from doing something (e.g., injunctive relief). 

Non-formal proceedings, such as negotiations, may also have these solutions available. Using the law as guidance, parties may come to an agreement outside of the courtroom to pay one another, to stop doing something, or to do something.   

In conclusion... 

In conclusion, if you have an issue, it may be worth considering if it is a legal problem. Many lawyers offer free consultations where you can confirm with them whether your issue is a legal problem.  If it is a legal problem, a lawyer can further help you understand your legal rights and if any legal solutions are available to you.