I was poking around the website for a local law firm (I have some pretty diverse hobbies and interests) and I was imagining what it’d be like to be a lawyer. Specifically, I was imagining what it’d be like to, say, be a lawyer, and have a desperate friend in need of assistance. You know, like on those television dramas.

Now, I know just enough about lawyers and the law to know that there are lots of different kinds of lawyers, and lots of different laws, and that lawyers also tend to specialize in specific areas of the law. Similarly, there are different areas of law enforcement, and different kinds of police (homicide, vice, traffic, et cetera).

As the scene played out in my head, a friend was asking for help in clearing up something for which they were wrongfully accused, and I was trying to explain that while I was, in fact, a lawyer, I was not the kind of lawyer who could help with their particular kind of problem. The issue of money came up, and it wasn’t about that.

How do you explain to someone you literally can’t help them, when they’ve assured themselves that you can? After all, you’re “just like” those people on television, who all carry magic sticks that solve legal problems. No, they don’t realize you’re an average worker like anyone else. You’ve been misrepresented, like anyone else.

Er, the argument in my head reached the point where it stopped being about whether or not my character could solve their problem, and if I would solve it for them. I tried to explain that another lawyer, a different kind of lawyer, could help them. They didn’t want to talk to anyone else. They just wanted me to solve their problem.

So, this post is kind of about two things. One, the legal system is a wacky place where boring things happen all the time. And the second, what’s the point at which you stop offering someone help and advice, and now you’re just doing things for them? I know people can’t do everything for themselves, and they need outside assistance.

So, at what point are you no longer helping? At what point have you stepped in and taken on their problem as your own? There’s a reason I sympathize so strongly with Michael Westen of Burn Notice. Every week, someone (family, friend, or other) will coerce him into solving someone else’s problem.

Occasionally Westen has the opportunity to do something out of a sense of goodwill, but it’s almost always under the condition that his involvement is never mentioned. His reputation for helping people with problems is by and large unwilling. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to help, quite the contrary. He just used to help a lot more people.