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September 7, 2010 6:06 AM   Subscribe

What is the penchant for asking immigration law-related questions on AskMe? Immigration laws are very complex; the only answer should be "speak with an immigration lawyer." Is there any practical reason these questions are asked, but not deleted, on AskMe? See this, for example.
posted by dfriedman to Etiquette/Policy at 6:06 AM (171 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Immigration laws are very complex; the only answer should be "speak with an immigration lawyer."

So these questions people are asking have an answer? What was the problem again?

I mean, there's tons of AskMe questions that only have a single correct answer, but we don't ban all "what book is this I read in 1980?" type questions.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:15 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There may be someone here who is familiar with immigration law. Also, being able to suggest to the asker that they should speak with an immigration lawyer can be a helpful answer that moves her towards a solution, if for some reason she hadn't thought of it previously.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:19 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


From that question I would say the key is likely: Neither of us have a lot of money
posted by Saminal at 6:21 AM on September 7, 2010


Yes, immigration law is complex but I assume that many of these questions are asked looking for others with similar experience or, in some cases, the exact same experience, which can be invaluable.

Entire forums exist just so that people can help others with the immigration process, provide experiences and pool information. One is visajourney.com. In the UK, sites like uk-yankee and uk-resident have even been collecting data and organizing petitions to get some procedures changed and act as watchdogs in cases where the UK is violating EU policy. So, this stuff is immensely valuable.

I, myself, just answered an immigration question. I am not a lawyer but I can relate my own experience.

I guess I don't understand why you feel these questions should be deleted. If you feel people are providing bad advice or being misleading, then you should say that.
posted by vacapinta at 6:22 AM on September 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


A lot of time people post things to AskMe when they don't even know what words to say to a real live doctor or lawyer.

If AskMeFi is your only stop before choosing a medical treatment, or plunging headlong into the court system or some such, yeah, you're probably doing it wrong. But as a first stop, so that you've read some stuff and have something resembling a clue when you sit down in an office with someone who is billing you by the hour, it's perfect.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:31 AM on September 7, 2010 [22 favorites]


Many people don't actually need a lawyer for immigration.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:32 AM on September 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


I would add that many of us like to have a lot of information and ideas - research - in our back pockets when we do go to the attorney's office. Askme is a great starting point to begin to understand the procedures.
posted by Tchad at 6:36 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


We've gone over this many, many times. AskMe is open to legal and medical questions - as open as neighbors chatting over a fence, say - and other folks' relevant experiences can be extremely useful beyond the standard (and important) "see a professional" advice.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would venture that these immigration questions are really no more complex than any other legal question (the wisdom of which is a topic for another MeTa post), or the host of other questions that require an answer more nuanced than DTMFA.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:44 AM on September 7, 2010


It's official. This call out sucks.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:53 AM on September 7, 2010


I've asked about immigration stuff on AskMe. It helped me find a good immigration attorney and explained to me the gist of what was going on. Win win. All AskMe questions require the Asker to sort advice which is of use from advice which isn't, immigration questions aren't any different.
posted by Kattullus at 6:53 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your situation is very boring and someone points you in the right direction, you don't need an immigration lawyer. It certainly makes it easier, and is the only option if your status is one of the incredibly complicated employment-based ones or if you have broken the law in any way, but for your run-of-the-mill marriage case, especially from Canada, you can do just fine on your own. For MUCH cheaper.
posted by phunniemee at 6:55 AM on September 7, 2010


  1. Lawyers are expensive
  2. They're even more expensive if you don't know anything at all, and they have to spend their time educating you.
This is part of a whole family of questions that get called out this way on the gray all the time. Health questions come to mind too.

Interestingly, many people have asked questions about selling a house and there has not been, to my memory, a post on the gray bemoaning why anyone would ask such a question rather than simply contacting a realtor.

I mean, it takes far less education to be a realtor than to be a doctor or a lawyer. But there are probably some really terrific realtors and some really terrible doctors and lawyers. How would you even know? By being more informed. The only difference between you (layman you) and any one of these professions is that they know and understand things that you don't know and that you don't understand. No one asks, "Please make me an expert in immigration law so that I am as good as or better than a lawyer." They ask, "Please help me understand and know this situation better."
posted by Deathalicious at 7:01 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would venture that these immigration questions are really no more complex than any other legal question

A lot of them are less complex, I'd suggest. And lots of us are immigrants - we might not be able to give formal legal advice, but we know the process that we went through, and can give advice on who to contact, and what possible pitfalls the OP might face.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:02 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Entire forums exist just so that people can help others with the immigration process, provide experiences and pool information

Yeah, and that is often the "right" answer to these questions, just pointing them in the right direction away from the scammers.
posted by smackfu at 7:06 AM on September 7, 2010


Agreed with Infinite Jest -- context and real-world experience can be valuable, even if it's just "hey I tried to do this without a lawyer and it didn't work out so well."

More specifically, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people successfully immigrate or emigrate every single year to and from a wide variety of countries without the assistance of a lawyer (and I say that AS a lawyer!). The questions are not automatically invalid, nor is there a compelling reason to treat them as such.
posted by modernnomad at 7:06 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, these responses are all very informative. Thanks.
posted by dfriedman at 7:12 AM on September 7, 2010


dfriedman, why didn't you ask a lawyer or accountant instead of posting a question about the taxes to which your corporation would be subject? Tax laws are very complex.
posted by John Cohen at 7:12 AM on September 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Actually, you don't usually need a lawyer to answer immigration questions. Often it's a matter of finding the right website, or talking to someone who has done it before. In Canada and Japan (the two regions where I'm most familiar), in most cases immigration lawyers are a bit of a waste of money.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:13 AM on September 7, 2010


dfriedman: the only answer should be "speak with an immigration lawyer."

Securing the services of a competent immigration attorney is a privilege, usually an economic one. It is not a requirement of the immigration process itself. While the regulations, paperwork and process can be complex, they are not insurmountable. An attitude that boils down to "if you cannot afford a lawyer, this is not for you" is less than helpful. Ask is actually very good with these questions and makes a perfectly decent starting point for resources, precisely because the process is so structured and the experience so common.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:22 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, the question you pointed out isn't necessarily one that requires some deep understanding of the complexities of immigration law. The OP asked, "What kind of options are out there for us?", suggesting that she really didn't even know where to start, much less the proper terminology. That's the sort of question many laypeople could answer. Immigration is very opaque -- it can be very helpful to figure out the general lay of the land before making any significant decisions one way or the other (and I would include "retaining an immigration lawyer" in the set of "significant decisions").

So the callout on this particular thread is weird. Some other immigration thread, maybe not so much.
posted by devinemissk at 7:34 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Family-based immigration is actually pretty straightforward. Lengthy and cumbersome and expensive, but straightforward. They tell you what forms to send, they tell you what extra information to provide and why.

Do you see people trying to get work-based green cards or something? Because work-based immigration is a whole different nightmare from family-based.

Competent and proactive adults should be able to manage the importation of their beloved. Where you want an immigration attorney is when you're off the standard track. If you're trying to adjust the status of a longtime overstayer, get an attorney. If you want to import someone with a criminal record, talk to an attorney first.

This is actually one area where hiring an attorney, full stop, can be a very bad idea. If you hire an attorney, hire an immigration attorney only. The nets are full of people who had a terrible time because they hired a local lawyer who knew fuck-all about immigration. I would trust the word of a whole host of frequent posters on alt.visa.us.marriage-based over the word of non-AILA attorneys.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:43 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


We've had some touchier immigration questions than that one and I feel that they are like landlord/tenant questions somewhat. Some things need lawyers, some things need the right form and/or advice on the right way to proceed. Having someone give you advice on which path is right could be potentially helpful.

I'm aware that people have strong feelings about immigration questions and we're less likely to approve the truly touchy anonyme ones [leading to some fairly heated exchanges with another member over the weekend when we anonymized a touchy post after the fact, one that we likely wouldn't have approved had it been queued with the rest of them] but if people are asking pretty basic "where do we start?" sorts of things, that's usually okay.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:45 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is the penchant for asking immigration law-related questions on AskMe?

This place is lousy with rootless cosmopolitans.
posted by codswallop at 7:47 AM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


dfriedman, perhaps you should have consulted a lawyer specializing in call-out law before making this post. It would have cost you $200/hour, but you would have known what to do before bringing your concerns to Metafilter.
posted by dodecapus at 7:48 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have asked, and emmigrated to another country successfully using advice/counsel I received on Ask Metafilter. No lawyers were involved. There was $0 cost.

AskMe pointed me in the right direction, and gave me information that a lawyer might charge hundreds for, and then helped me to understand that there was absolutely no legal reason to involve a lawyer.

So yes, this call out sucks.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:54 AM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not to gang up but as someone going through the process right now (seriously, I'm working on my IMM 5490 today) online fora are invaluable. Both for questions with hard-to-find but simple answers and for getting you to a level of knowledge where you are comfortable deciding whether or not you need an attorney. And it's really really hard to get immigration on the phone.

The support is nice too.

Also dfriedman you shouldn't post call-outs in the morning on the first workday of the week because people are grumpy - this applies for afternoon, evening and all other days of the week as well. :-)
posted by vapidave at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2010


What is the penchant for asking relationship questions on AskMe? Relationships are very complex; the only answer should be "speak with a relationship lawyer."
posted by Elmore at 8:15 AM on September 7, 2010


What is the penchant for asking immigration law-related questions on AskMe?

We all want to sneak across the border and steal jobs from American mefites. We can post twice the comments for half the price.
posted by jonmc at 8:23 AM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


A lot of time people post things to AskMe when they don't even know what words to say to a real live doctor or lawyer.

If AskMeFi is your only stop before choosing a medical treatment, or plunging headlong into the court system or some such, yeah, you're probably doing it wrong. But as a first stop, so that you've read some stuff


Its a great way to lose money as your lawyer has to spend your money taking the time to explain to you that the people on the internet don't know shit about the law.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:38 AM on September 7, 2010


Yes, nothing is better as a consumer than to walk into an authority's office as a tabula rasa having done no research and with no preconceived framing for your question. Embrace your ignorance, chumps, you cannot hope to even understand the outline of your situation! Sit down, shut up, listen to what your lawyer/doctor/whatever deigns to tell you and ask nothing further! If they wanted you to know it they'd have told you.

Then pay your bill and GTFO. The True Keepers Of Knowledge have better things to do than respond to your desire to understand.
posted by phearlez at 8:45 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I’d hate for someone to miss a life-changing opportunity because of some bad free advice, but really what most people with immigration questions need is to be pointed to clear, helpful resources. A small proportion of people are embroiled in immigration issues that actually require legal advice (and so really anyone, lawyer or no, is in the clear to point the way to factual answers). This also has the virtue of distinguishing itself from anecdote and opinion, which are the bane of (factually oriented) AskMe questions.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:55 AM on September 7, 2010


Years and years back, I had a case I wanted pressed. My lawyers threw up their hands over a little roadblock and it stopped right there. Their expert legal advice was that it was hopeless. Years later, thanks some random searching on the Internet, I found out that the very same situation I was in had previously inspired a ruling that my lawyers at the time ought to have known about by then, given that they specialized in that very thing.

In this situation, the lawyers lost money because they didn't know shit about the law that people on the Internet did know.
posted by adipocere at 8:59 AM on September 7, 2010


Well, the alluded-to exception is when you are embroiled in legal proceedings and do require legal advice. The same suggestion then works in both medical and legal spheres: seek a second opinion, but it's often impractical in both of those worlds for exactly the same reasons.

No question: having a bad lawyer (or doctor) is much, much worse than having none at all.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:02 AM on September 7, 2010


Yes, nothing is better as a consumer than to walk into an authority's office as a tabula rasa having done no research and with no preconceived framing for your question. Embrace your ignorance, chumps, you cannot hope to even understand the outline of your situation! Sit down, shut up, listen to what your lawyer/doctor/whatever deigns to tell you and ask nothing further! If they wanted you to know it they'd have told you.

Then pay your bill and GTFO. The True Keepers Of Knowledge have better things to do than respond to your desire to understand.


Its better than wasting your money having to have your lawyer correct persons who answer incorrectly in five seconds what takes several hours to answer in reference to the law.

Seriously, you think you are helping, but you must follow the first rule: do no harm.

And yes, I am the keeper of knowledge. I worked my butt off to do this training. Then I took an exam that was harder than my masters comps. Then I served dozens of clients. I have experience in a very specialized field. There's a reason it costs a lot of money--the training is hard and there is a lot on the line. Someone's large life change that it is very important to get right. I take it more seriously than you because I know how serious it is.

I've had to waste precious client funds time after time fixing client's misconceptions all the time. It is so, so, so important to get this right. People are relying on you. If I screw up they can sue and my insurance can help. If you screw up and they follow your advice, then they have nothing.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:45 AM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


phearlez: " walk into an authority's office as a tabula rasa having done no research and with no preconceived framing for your question."

That one episode of that show isn't "research" no matter how much you like saying "ladies and gentlemen of the jury" in your underwear in front of a mirror, pretending to strut about with your thumbs in invisible suspenders.
posted by boo_radley at 9:54 AM on September 7, 2010


I, myself, just answered an immigration question. I am not a lawyer but I can relate my own experience.

I guess I don't understand why you feel these questions should be deleted. If you feel people are providing bad advice or being misleading, then you should say that.


A mod should never answer questions like that. Ever. We are talking exposure to legal liability for the site. It isn't the same as a user. You could be considered an agent of the site and draw liability onto it in ways you do not know.

Here's the problem. We don't even know if an answer is right or wrong because its more than what the law is, its what the facts are. Often the questioner does not know what facts are important and doesn't include them in the question. All sorts of things could be involved that could require a lot more factual digging than is available.

Caution is appropriate. The stakes are too high.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:54 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


AskMe pointed me in the right direction, and gave me information that a lawyer might charge hundreds for, and then helped me to understand that there was absolutely no legal reason to involve a lawyer.

So yes, this call out sucks.


Because you are happy with your result, there's no chance of an error on another's part?

One time someone suggested that a family just split up an estate rather than put in probate. That's a criminal act. Literally.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:00 AM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth: I do not represent the site in anyway nor do I speak for Matt or for Metafilter. I am not employed by Metafilter Inc. in any way. My response was posted as that of an individual metafilter user. My liability is only personal liability.

I will continue to post my personal experience with UK immigration because I believe it may be helpful to others. I post regularly on other immigration forums and will continue to do so. The response I linked to above, primarily consisted of links to UK Border Agency pages that the user may not be aware of and, as mentioned, my own personal experiences.
posted by vacapinta at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, you are an effective advocate for your position. Seeing as how you've made three posts in the last fifteen minutes, let me say that you don't need to respond to every post individually.

Also, I'm curious as to the details of the estate question you mentioned. Why is that a criminal act?
posted by boo_radley at 10:03 AM on September 7, 2010


Caution is appropriate. The stakes are too high.

This isn't inconsistent, though, with people sharing their personal experiences. To be honest, if someone thinks that people ought not to have opinions about matters of law, as long as it also affirms the need for caution and additional legal expertise, the law takes itself too seriously.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth, it's flatly ridiculous for you to be taking this tone in relation to simple questions about immigration and its associated administrative procedures. The procedures used by USCIS/ICE and State were created with the express intent that ordinary people could navigate these processes without specialized legal assistance.

Really, I expect that the next time someone asks about how to get a passport quickly, someone will be in there to say that O NOES you can't ask questions like that because the laws surrounding passports are very complex and nobody should attempt to obtain one without legal representation. Or that the next time somebody asks what kinds of ID the DMV of Idaho accepts, O NOES U CAN'T ASK THAT because the laws around driving and identity are so very fucking complicated that nobody should even mention the letters DMV without first consulting a lawyer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


posted by Ironmouth One time someone suggested that a family just split up an estate rather than put in probate. That's a criminal act.

Making a suggestion is a criminal act? I guess Miss Manners is now Public Enemy Number One.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2010


Is there any practical reason these questions are asked, but not deleted

you will have to see a lawyer.
but never hurts to ask...
when the repsonse is
you will have to speak to a lawyer.
posted by clavdivs at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2010


mattdidthat: "Making a suggestion is a criminal act? I guess Miss Manners is now Public Enemy Number One."

I think the point would be that following the suggestion would be a criminal act.
posted by boo_radley at 10:23 AM on September 7, 2010


Well, Ironmouth is exactly right that the AskMe answerer may not have all the facts. It's basically a truism that the client never comes to you with 100% of what you need to know, either because they don't realize what facts are important or because they don't want to tell you. But that's another reason why pointing someone to resources they can utilize (and immigration law is pretty good for having a lot of materials produced to help people with various scenarios and issues) so that you never end up in a "Oh, didn't I mention my brother is criminally inadmissible?" situation. It never becomes your responsibility.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:24 AM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth, if you think advice in an Askme thread is bad, you should totally post about it in the thread. There's wrong information in the immigration thread in question (besides "you need a lawyer"), and people have posted to correct it. Now the OP knows some resources and search terms to investigate, and can figure out for herself which advice seems more plausible.

I think most Askme users understand that online information needs to be filtered and verified. I don't think any would-be immigrants who post questions about the process are using Metafilter as their sole source of instructions.

Also this: Someone's large life change that it is very important to get right. I take it more seriously than you because I know how serious it is. is crap.

Also what ROU_Xenophobe said. Most of these cases are not complicated. Even the complications are often not that complicated.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note: Every would-be immigration lawyer needs a hug. And a visajourney account.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by Ironmouth I take it more seriously than you because I know how serious it is. I've had to waste precious client funds time after time fixing client's misconceptions all the time. It is so, so, so important to get this right. People are relying on you. If I screw up they can sue and my insurance can help. If you screw up and they follow your advice, then they have nothing. . . . We are talking exposure to legal liability for the site. It isn't the same as a user. You could be considered an agent of the site and draw liability onto it in ways you do not know.

Attention all users: Before posting to Ask MetaFilter, please send all questions and possible answers to Ironmouth, Esq., MetaFilter's free attorney for screening and review. Legally, financially, and morally speaking, we simply cannot afford to have random people answering questions.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:37 AM on September 7, 2010


One time someone suggested that a family just split up an estate rather than put in probate. That's a criminal act.

Making a suggestion is a criminal act? I guess Miss Manners is now Public Enemy Number One.


Splitting up an estate instead of putting it into probate is a criminal act.
posted by zarq at 10:37 AM on September 7, 2010


Attention all users: Before posting to Ask MetaFilter, please send all questions and possible answers to Ironmouth, Esq., MetaFilter's free attorney for screening and review. Legally, financially, and morally speaking, we simply cannot afford to have random people answering questions.

This isn't what he's saying, though. He means well and his concerns seem valid.

I think it's fairly apparent that people who give bad medical and legal advice in AskMe may wind up doing more harm than good.
posted by zarq at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2010


I was in nearly the same situation as the OP in the linked thread, 6 years ago. I read a ton of information (some here on AskMe, but mostly at the excellent visajourney site) but fully intended to get a lawyer to 'check things over' before sending it in.

I pored over the paperwork, stories, sample forms, and the USCIS site, and after the initial shock of how unromantic the US government was and how unfair the process would be, we had our paperwork done and honestly, by then, getting a lawyer for our simple (simplest of the simple) case seemed like a waste of money, so we just sent it in.

Sure, it was a risk, but I came to understand that simply applying has a risk of rejection and having a lawyer wouldn't magically make us get approved.

I agree with other comments above that scaring people about immigration isn't a great thing to do. It's stressful and it's important to get the facts right, but if you are willing to do your research it's quite manageable.

Oh, and as I said in the other thread, I'm not even sure that the asker OP was even thinking of marriage and immigration. Like others said, I don't think she knew the search terms or even the potential processes and pitfalls to be navigated and just used words like 'immigration' or 'visa' for lack of proper terminology. I know I didn't know any better when I started out. I assumed either me or my SO could find an easy way to temporary move to the other's country for a few years. It seems stupid to think that now, but at the time we were naive and optimistic and it took a lot of research to get the proper perspective.
posted by johnstein at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2010


A mod should never answer questions like that. Ever.

Just to be crystal clear: vacapinta is not a mod. He has some special powers and checks in on the site in the middle of the night once or twice. That said, I've answered vaguely legal, medical and should-I-eat-that questions and will probably continue to do so.

I know you're just being blustery because at some level you care about this site Ironmouth, but your tone is really coming across as pushy and "I know how to run the site better than you do". If you want to talk to mathowie about things he should be taking into account and isn't, his email and MeMail are available and it's probably a better way to affect site policy than grouching at people in MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:47 AM on September 7, 2010


I can see both sides on this, particularly on questions involving U.S. immigration questions. Sure, there are relatively straightforward immigration issues, but given how bad people are about judging which facts are salient, the frequency of changes in immigration regs, and the severity of the potential consequences, how can we tell, particularly with an anonymous question?

While I don't think these questions should be deleted because I think it's helpful to get a sense of what is out there, even if the question is not definitively answered, it's hard for me to read some of these without getting itchy because I work with people whose lives have been turned upside down with what they believed was a no-big-deal immigration issue.

I like the anonymous call-in radio format as an answer, because the hosts can ask the pertinent questions. There's a great show on every Tuesday night at 7:00-7:30 p.m. central time on Houston's Pacifica station, run by immigration lawyers. If you can get over the cheesy Neil Diamond intro/outro, it's quite good for sorting out whether a question is straightforward and does not require a lawyer.
posted by *s at 10:49 AM on September 7, 2010


If you can get over the cheesy Neil Diamond intro/outro

Oh god, it's "America" off the Jazz Singer soundtrack, isn't it?

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2010


Yup. Good advice has its price.
posted by *s at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every would-be immigration lawyer needs a hug.

No, the shysters need a punch in the junk. The honest and decent ones need hugs.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2010


A lot of people have never been in a situation where they've interacted with a lawyer, and it can seem like lawyers are something that only exists for tv dramas and rich people. Also, many people don't realize at all how much of an incredible pain in the ass immigration stuff can be.

So starting from zero, starting from common sense everyday experience, they think maybe it's like taxes -- figure out which forms you need, fill them out, call the number if you have basic questions, read the FAQ, and you're all set. People think this way about divorce, custody, settling small estates, etc. In that frame of mind, it makes sense that they post here.

If they're asking a detailed question about their case, it's positive and helpful for them to be told "Only a lawyer specializing in immigration can answer this question for you, and anything else is too risky because if you screw it up you could be banned from the country you're trying to immigrate to. To find a lawyer here's what you do."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth is right.

When you ask a group of non-laywer strangers for legal advice, you are putting yourself in harm's way.

And it is downright idiotic to shout a lawyer down when he chimes in to suggest that it is foolish to rely on the legal advice of non-lawyers and that it is foolish of non-lawyers and lawyers alike to give legal advice in response to an incomplete inquiry in a public forum.

There is a big difference between asking people to share their own personal experiences with immigration and asking those same people to provide legal advice. And there is a very good reason why lawyers don't pop in to AskMeFi threads to give legal advice. There are several lawyers here. But legal advice is really only given by the non-lawyers on AskMeFi. The lawyers don't do it. Think about that.
posted by The World Famous at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"In May 2008 vacapinta became the Midnight Mod, checking in a few times during the North American night."
posted by John Cohen at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2010


Vacapinta, the Midnight Mod.
posted by zarq at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The mod question is a derail, for sure.

As for the main question, I've been consistently concerned about this question for some time. There has been some absolutely terrible advice given, very occassionally criminal. Advice that would get a lawyer disbarred if he or she was to give it.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2010


I edited the FAQ to be a little more clear on the subject.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:16 AM on September 7, 2010


I know you're just being blustery because at some level you care about this site Ironmouth, but your tone is really coming across as pushy and "I know how to run the site better than you do".

I can't speak for Ironmouth, but it seemed to me that he was giving the site free legal advice, not telling you how to run it. A behind-the-scenes discussion with Ironmouth is probably a good idea.
posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on September 7, 2010


TWF, if responses to the underlying question are "legal advice," then answering almost any question about the governance of the United States is "legal advice," even down to asking about how to expedite a passport or what ID to bring to the DMV in New Mexico.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


TWF, if responses to the underlying question are "legal advice," then answering almost any question about the governance of the United States is "legal advice," even down to asking about how to expedite a passport or what ID to bring to the DMV in New Mexico.

I didn't say that responses to the underlying question are necessarily legal advice. Some are. Some are not. If you can't tell the difference, beware.
posted by The World Famous at 11:20 AM on September 7, 2010


The World Famous: "it seemed to me that he was giving the site free legal advice"

This phrasing will probably give Ironmouth a seizure. Is that what you're trying to do?
posted by boo_radley at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Midnight Mod" was a jokey appellation that pre-dated vacapinta's late-night volunteer work by a couple of months; it's not the clearest thing in the world to call the position (and internally we pretty much just call him "vacapinta" or "Ricardo" or "thanks for deleting that horrible mess at 3 am, dude"), but it's a name that sort of stuck at the time for reasons of sheer inertia. (See "antipodal mod" as another notional early name.)

He is not paid to and is not expected to either put up with the kind of stuff that it's mine and Jessamyn's and Matt's job to put up with or to wield any kind of policy authority or responsibility for what the site does and does not allow. Hopefully clearing that up in the FAQ some will make it less of a "oh but look" issue for people reading the phrase too literally. The mod question is indeed a derail.

Fundamentally, this is not a new subject. We've talked about it before, and the status quo has not shifted: we're not going to ban or otherwise condemn people asking about, and answering, questions that have legal or medical bearing. We understand that there's a certain amount of potential for harm in bad advice and some amount of concern of liability in general, and we accept that, but nothing has changed recently that would make this conversation go differently than it has every time previously. Pretty much the only thing that could change is Matt's opinion on the subject shifting starkly, so taking it up with Matt directly via email probably makes a hell of a lot more sense than taking a shot at vacapinta, etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:26 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Its better than wasting your money having to have your lawyer correct persons who answer incorrectly in five seconds what takes several hours to answer in reference to the law.

How is a AskMe answer any different than the bozo who walks into your office having had a chat with his golfing buddy/brother in law/next door neighbor who "knows all about this stuff" and absolutely won't listen to reason? You act as though people never got terrible advice IRL before AskMe existed. I worked for lawyers in the early 80s and I remember people coming in the office who had gotten terrible, terrible, advice from someone who wasn't a lawyer and we had to fix it. The internet didn't cause stupid people to be stupid, they were already stupid.
posted by micawber at 11:28 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is a AskMe answer any different than the bozo who walks into your office having had a chat with his golfing buddy/brother in law/next door neighbor who "knows all about this stuff" and absolutely won't listen to reason?

It's exactly like that - except that it's in written form and the asker doesn't necessarily know that the person answering the question is a bozo. And that's why it's frustrating for a lawyer to watch someone ask for and receive what amounts to sensitive, written legal advice from a few thousand anonymous bozos/golfing buddies/brothers-in-law/next door neighbors who "know all about this stuff" and absolutely won't listen to reason. And then, when someone makes a MeTa thread about it, those same bozos shout down the reasonable lawyer who is advising caution.
posted by The World Famous at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2010


And that's why it's frustrating for a lawyer to watch someone ask for and receive what amounts to sensitive, written legal advice from a few thousand anonymous bozos/golfing buddies/brothers-in-law/next door neighbors who "know all about this stuff" and absolutely won't listen to reason

I'm not trying to be a jerk, but then this is the part where the lawyer/doctor/whoever has to try and get over the fact that people are going to share their opinions about this kind of stuff, because it's human nature to do so. The responsibility isn't on mods to shut it down, but for people collectively to try and add a corrective where bad advice is being given, and to again remind people that all advice should be given with a grain of salt and in conjunction with professional advice as the mediating authority on all opinions. You know, kind of like real life. Those who keep arguing that people shouldn't be talking about this stuff are fighting against human nature, and the answer to this isn't to censor people talking about it. It's to educate on how to better have the conversation.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Some of the not-very-sub subtext here seems to be that if you're not a lawyer, you aren't even qualified to determine which question is a law-related question and which isn't.

An immigration-related question that asks about options doesn't strike me as requiring you-need-a-lawyer answers. Answers that point to the relevant bits of official US and Canadian immigration websites and offer personal stories don't seem wildly out of line. As other people have said upthread, lots of people change countries legally all the time without needing a lawyer.

There's a question up right now about visa expediting services. Perhaps that person actually needs legal advice, and not recommendations for an expediter! This one should probably only be answered by a traffic engineer or someone well-versed in that particular jurisdiction's traffic laws.

It's exactly like that - except that it's in written form and the asker doesn't necessarily know that the person answering the question is a bozo.


*All* questions are like this. Caveat emptor and all that. There isn't a guarantee that the legal advice you get from an actual lawyer you pay money to is going to keep your ass out of jail, either.

There was a question a couple of weeks or so ago from someone who wanted to know how to secretly record (video and sound, I think) job interviews, and they asked about the best kind of equipment to use. The last I saw of it, the thread was nothing but DO NOT DO THIS and "Some portion of recording this way is almost certainly illegal in your jurisdiction but even if it weren't it would be a terrible idea for the following reasons."

Can taking bad legal advice from a stranger on the internet wreck your life? You bet. So can taking bad relationship advice, academic advice, etc.
posted by rtha at 11:56 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The responsibility isn't on mods to shut it down, but for people collectively to try and add a corrective where bad advice is being given, and to again remind people that all advice should be given with a grain of salt and in conjunction with professional advice as the mediating authority on all opinions.

Well, first, I'm not the one saying the mods should shut it down. I am making no comment on that matter here.

Second, where legal advice is concerned, no prudent lawyer is going to "add a corrective where bad advice is given," because that could constitute giving legal advice and could get the lawyer into trouble, including potentially creating an attorney-client relationship, waiving privilege, etc.

You know, kind of like real life.

If you know lawyers in real life, you may notice that when a bunch of bozos at a dinner party are giving bad legal advice, the lawyer does not jump in and give a bunch of contrary legal advice. At most, a good lawyer in such a situation will strongly suggest that the person receiving bad legal advice from non-lawyers should consult an actual lawyer and do so in a setting where the attorney-client privilege will be preserved.

Those who keep arguing that people shouldn't be talking about this stuff are fighting against human nature, and the answer to this isn't to censor people talking about it.

The statutes of most, if not all, U.S. jurisdictions, as well as other jurisdictions, have very stern rules about giving legal advice. They are certainly fighting against human nature. Nevertheless, there is substantial danger in a permanent, searchable, written forum where non-lawyers with colloquial knowledge and incomplete analysis give unmitigated legal advice and where, due to the nature of the profession and applicable rules, lawyers must refrain from correcting bad advice and/or providing sound advice. Again, I'm not voicing any opinion as to how the site should officially handle the situation. But your proposition that lawyers should chime in and give legal advice to mitigate the bozos, while well-intentioned, ignores the very important realities of the legal profession.

*All* questions are like this. Caveat emptor and all that.

No. Not all questions ask for legal advice, and not all answers give it.
posted by The World Famous at 12:09 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I had no idea that what I thought was a straightforward question about site policy would devolve into such sniping.
posted by dfriedman at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2010


Hello, welcome to metatalk, I guess.
posted by boo_radley at 12:20 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think your question was as straightforward as you think nor your solution as simple as you thought.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:20 PM on September 7, 2010


I had no idea that what I thought was a straightforward question about site policy would devolve into such sniping.

Actually, The World Famous, I think my response to you did come across as sniping in a couple of spots, and I'm sorry about that.

But your proposition that lawyers should chime in and give legal advice to mitigate the bozos, while well-intentioned, ignores the very important realities of the legal profession.

Actually, I was thinking that those who were having the discussion would be the ones directing people to legal advice as well as part of the corrective, not that lawyers need to be jumping in. I think my commas weren't properly place. But you make a good point.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:26 PM on September 7, 2010


Nevertheless, there is substantial danger in a permanent, searchable, written forum where non-lawyers with colloquial knowledge and incomplete analysis give unmitigated legal advice and where, due to the nature of the profession and applicable rules, lawyers must refrain from correcting bad advice and/or providing sound advice.

Sorry, I meant to comment on this, too. I see how this creates the tension that you were talking about. So what are the dangers specifically?
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2010


If you're a lawyer or concerned bystander here, and you want to do something about these questions, here's what you should do, which would be more helpful than just saying "get a lawyer". Four sentences: "You need to consult a lawyer in your area to answer this question, don't rely on answers you get here." plus:

1. Things can vary a lot from place to place, and based on specific things about your case (for example, "it makes a difference in some places whether your grandparents ever lived there. There are other details like this, which a lawyer in your jurisdiction will know about, that can make a huge difference for your case.")

2. what can go wrong if you get it wrong (in other words, the cost of a lawyer is worth it because the penalty of screwing up is higher than you might realize; many people think if they screw up via an honest mistake they'll just get another chance to do it right) "If you screw up in the application, even if it's an honest mistake, you can be penalized as if you were trying to lie, which can mean all kinds of penalties including getting banned from applying again (or even traveling to the country) for years."

3. how to find a lawyer - sometimes this is what's really useful in askme, because people can find out what type of lawyer they need, ie, the magic jargon phrase describes the specialty to look for.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


And then, when someone makes a MeTa thread about it, those same bozos shout down the reasonable lawyer who is advising caution.

I think there's a question about what kind of caution is warranted. dfriedman was suggesting that all questions about immigration be deleted because they might elicit legal advice from non-lawyers. I think it's more reasonable that questions explicitly asking for legal advice be deleted, and that we flag answers offering arm-chair legal advice, medical diagnoses and so forth and hope that those get deleted.
posted by nangar at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2010


It's exactly like that - except that it's in written form and the asker doesn't necessarily know that the person answering the question is a bozo.

That's not what I said. I said that the person ASKING the question is the bozo. People without filters or brains existed before the internet did. I don't think that a stupid person getting advice on the internet is any different than a stupid person getting advice from someone who isn't qualified IRL. I'm also not saying anyone who is asking questions on AskMe is stupid.

There is no way to insist that people use their brains and no way to stop people who refuse to do so.
posted by micawber at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2010


I'm sympathetic to Ironmouth's arguments, but I do think that there are plenty of situations where the answer is quite simple, and one doesn't need to speak to a lawyer.

The thread vacapinta linked to falls into that category, IMO. There are some fairly well-established means of getting permission to live and work in the UK; they aren't terribly hard to understand, and someone who has been through the process can point the OP to the relevant govt website to look for themselves. [I don't speak to US law - perhaps that is more complicated?]

For the situations that do require expert knowledge, is it possible for lawyers to post something like 'I am not your lawyer, but this is something that really needs professional legal advice"? Or is that not permissible?
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:48 PM on September 7, 2010


No. Not all questions ask for legal advice, and not all answers give it.

But my snarkily-phrased comment above is boiled down to: how are we to know which questions are asking for legal advice, and which aren't, if we aren't lawyers?

The question called out in this meTa is, on its face, a non-legal-seeming "what are my options re my Canadian boyfriend and I being together in one country?" And yet it's being held up as an example that only a lawyer can answer.

So. Is it? Is an immigration attorney the only person who should be allowed to address the Askme poster's request for information?

And if so, then why are the immigration websites of so many countries filled with FAQs and forms, rather than a blanket "See a lawyer if you want to live in this country legally"?
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should have previewed: LobsterMitten answered the question in my last para.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:49 PM on September 7, 2010


Infinite Jest, people do already say "you need to get a lawyer for this." (same for medical questions, you need to go to the doctor, etc) And that's useful as far as it goes, but I meant to be saying I think there's a background knowledge gap that leads people to post here instead of getting a lawyer and if we want them to actually pick up the phone and get a lawyer, it would help to fill in the background knowledge we take for granted, such as "no really, things can go way more wrong than you think, if you get wrong advice".
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2010


"If you screw up in the application, even if it's an honest mistake, you can be penalized as if you were trying to lie, which can mean all kinds of penalties including getting banned from applying again (or even traveling to the country) for years."

I think giving false statements that conflate the concequences or perpetuate myths about the system may be as bad as bad legal advice. Statements like these are why people are so afraid of the immigration system in the United States and honestly these are the sorts of fears that lead to people being exploited because they are afraid to seek help.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:03 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had no idea that what I thought was a straightforward question about site policy would devolve into such sniping.

When lawyers are involved there's no such thing as a straightforward question.
posted by Tenuki at 1:04 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no way to insist that people use their brains and no way to stop people who refuse to do so.

Its quite possible. You can just close off legal advice questions. However, the site has made a decision not to do that.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:07 PM on September 7, 2010


If you're a lawyer or concerned bystander here, and you want to do something about these questions, here's what you should do, which would be more helpful than just saying "get a lawyer". Four sentences: "You need to consult a lawyer in your area to answer this question, don't rely on answers you get here."

Except, in the case of immigration, you probably don't. The idea that everyone dealing with USCIS needs a lawyer is as ludicrous as suggesting that everyone getting a driver's license or applying for food stamps needs one.

Ironically, what the OP wants to do -- have her schmoopy around, but not marry him and (no offense intended) maybe break up later if it's not working out -- is sufficiently far from the standard categories that I think it would be worth talking to an AILA attorney about the options.

How to find a lawyer in this case: ask for recommendations for your area on visajourney or alt.visa.us.marriage-based .
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:10 PM on September 7, 2010


You can just close off legal advice questions.

They could also close off relationship questions, questions about academia, questions about travel, questions about families, questions about raising children, questions about technology.

Where do you draw the line?
posted by micawber at 1:11 PM on September 7, 2010


I too apologize for my snarkery.

Perhaps Ironmouth could write some copy for the MetaFilter FAQ and the AskMetaFilter FAQ to which we could link, advising people that answers in Ask MetaFilter are not legal advice and should not be considered as such, and that questions involving legal issues should be directed to a lawyer.

We can't--and shouldn't--stop people from asking and answering questions best handled by qualified professionals, but we can advise them to consult the appropriate professionals, and we can distance ourselves from the consequences of their failure to do so.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:11 PM on September 7, 2010


10th regiment, I wasn't suggesting giving false statements, but giving examples. (My examples are fake and off the top of my head, but my thought was that someone who knows could come up with better examples.)

It seems to me that blanket "get a lawyer" advice is easy to ignore if one doesn't want the expense and hassle of figuring out how to get a lawyer, and one may think that look, the system operates by common-sense, and if I make an honest mistake I will be able to call them up and say "oops, sorry, let me fix that" and everything will be fine. I.e., I think people who haven't been through it have a wrong idea about how tolerant the system is of seemingly-trivial mistakes. Examples can help dispel that belief. I'm not suggesting fear-mongering, but just making concrete the idea that this is a domain where it really matters if your Ts are crossed and your Is dotted, and you may need a lawyer to be sure of that.

"exploited because they're afraid to seek help", I don't understand who you're talking about here. Do you think it's better to say just plain "get a lawyer" - then people will be more likely to seek help? Or do you think it's better to give an answer that gives some legal advice? or what?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:15 PM on September 7, 2010


When lawyers are involved there's no such thing as a straightforward question.

When people who actually know the subject matter of a question are involved, answers tend to be detailed and recognize the significant facets of the question. That doesn't just apply to lawyers. When legal questions are asked, lawyers tend to recognize that they are not straightforward.

Where do you draw the line?

You could draw the line at questions where it the only people legally qualified to answer are also ethically prohibited from doing so in this forum.

The idea that everyone dealing with USCIS needs a lawyer is as ludicrous as suggesting that everyone getting a driver's license or applying for food stamps needs one.

Agreed. But the idea that everyone who asks for legal advice needs to be asking a lawyer rather than a thousand strangers is not ludicrous.
posted by The World Famous at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2010


Its quite possible. You can just close off legal advice questions.

that doesn't stop 'stupid' people from being stupid though, it just means they're being stupid at ask.yahoo instead of here, and missing out on at least Some useful responses.
posted by nomisxid at 1:27 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's exactly like that - except that it's in written form and the asker doesn't necessarily know that the person answering the question is a bozo.

Welcome to reality. Hope you enjoy your stay. Credibility is a problem everywhere in life.

It's also a problem at all levels up to and including lawyers who have passed the bar and doctors who have passed their boards. As the old joke goes, what do you call the person who graduated last in their class in medical school? "Doctor."

To say that laypeople should never attempt to garner knowledge from a specialty is to ignore the reality that they may find themselves dealing with incompetent practitioners.

I'm sorry for everyone who has ever dealt with an uninformed jackass who insists they know better because they saw a tv show or their cousin's partner's valet told them something totally wrong. Including me, because it's not like only doctors and lawyers deal with this phenomenon.
posted by phearlez at 1:35 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm working on immigration right now (seriously, this minute, I'm assembling info for my IMM-5490). A few weeks ago we went for a consultation with an attorney that has successfully worked on immigration cases in the past (though he is not exclusively an immigration attorney) and he gave us authoritative specific advice regarding paperwork submission. I happened to be reading one of the immigration blogs soon after and came across information that suggested he was incorrect. I called immigration and it turns out that he was in fact incorrect and if we had followed his advice it would have unnecessarily delayed our application, and hence the date I can start work*, by 12 weeks.

You would be a fool to treat advice on the internet as your sole legal counsel - and I don't think anyone is suggesting that - but in my case acting as an informed consumer saved me and my wife (who is herself an attorney and will be the first to tell you that they make mistakes) from the very scary prospect of flawed representation and from what would have been thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Your attorney is not as invested in the outcome of your legal matter as you are. Use every resource you can find.

*We Will Prevail.
posted by vapidave at 1:44 PM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


You could draw the line at questions where it the only people legally qualified to answer are also ethically prohibited from doing so in this forum.

Where is that line? Is today's example question a legal question? Or is it a question about resources for more information? Or both?
posted by rtha at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2010


Your attorney is not as invested in the outcome of your legal matter as you are. Use every resource you can find.

This is good advice. Owing to the possibility of malpractice suits and disbarment, the average lawyers does care about your legal matter more than the average interested internet passerby. But you can go awry either way; there are no guarantees.

12 weeks is a fairly cheap lesson in immigration matters. There are a few legislative culs de sac in Canada’s regime that will see you never get a second kick at the can.

My $.02 is this: if you want to research your problem, by all means solicit resources. If you want someone to research your problem for you, for godsakes, get a lawyer. You could, of course, do both.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2010


average lawyer, that is.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2010


Welcome to reality. Hope you enjoy your stay. Credibility is a problem everywhere in life.

Credibility is certainly a problem everywhere in life. Fortunately, there is no problem discerning who has "credibility" when reading an AskMeFi thread that seeks legal advice. Here's the simple rule of thumb: Anyone who gives legal advice in response to an AskMetafilter question lacks credibility.

Where is that line? Is today's example question a legal question? Or is it a question about resources for more information? Or both?

As I read it, it appears to be both. And again, I don't really want to weigh in on what I think the site's policy should be on the matter. But if a line were to be drawn policy-wise, I'm not sure today's example would run afoul of it.
posted by The World Famous at 1:58 PM on September 7, 2010


You can just close off legal advice questions.

They could also close off relationship questions, questions about academia, questions about travel, questions about families, questions about raising children, questions about technology.

Where do you draw the line?


When a screw up could result in someone being barred from applying or even entering the country they want to work, live, go to school in, or marry someone in.

Where answers given by participants that are supposed to *help* would result in criminal sanctions being applied to the questioner if the question was answered.

Where the wrong answer could cost the person their freedom, or tens of thousands of dollars.

Everyone may give relationship advice, answer questions about academia, questions about travel, questions about families, questions about raising children and questions about technology for money.

But when it comes to legal and medical advice, you must be a licensed professional to give advice for money. In many states it is a criminal act.

There are important reasons for that, the main one being that the law is unbending and its results are really fucking final. You know they can lock you up, take your money and prevent you from entering a country for a period of time or even permanently. You can always appeal to your husband and wife for forgiveness or understanding, but if you miss that deadline or improperly plead your case, there is no appeal. No changing, no reversal, no nothing. You lose big and the force of the state is here to show you the door.

That's how serious this is. That's why I have to spend hundreds a year on malpractice insurance. Because even when there is an appeal, there often isn't money or expertise to get the job done.

The same goes for medical advice. When you're dead, your dead. Can't get that back.

It is the irreversability of the consequences that makes this so important.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:41 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ironmouth. Seriously. How are those of us who are not lawyers supposed to know when a question is a legal question? As I asked above, is today's example question a legal question that should only be answered by a lawyer licensed to practice in the asker's jurisdiction? Is What kind of options are out there for us? a legal question? What about this (ostensibly immigration-related) question?
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth. Seriously. How are those of us who are not lawyers supposed to know when a question is a legal question? As I asked above, is today's example question a legal question that should only be answered by a lawyer licensed to practice in the asker's jurisdiction? Is What kind of options are out there for us? a legal question? What about this (ostensibly immigration-related) question?

That's a tough question, for sure.

That one is really more like "how do I get my official transcript in a few days and over to the UK", I think. It is only the question of getting that one document. Basically the questioner isn't asking about whether or not she's qualified, or what documents she needs or even whether she may or may not legally enter the country. There are no legal interpretations needed. It is a bureaucracy question, first and foremost. And I think people can really answer questions like that. Tips and tricks help with bureaucracy help.

But when there is a legal opinion--am I allowed in under the current state of the law and the facts I present, that's another thing.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth writes "As for the main question, I've been consistently concerned about this question for some time. There has been some absolutely terrible advice given, very occassionally criminal. Advice that would get a lawyer disbarred if he or she was to give it."

Hardly restricted to legal questions; I've read home improvement and rigging advice posted to AskMe that if followed would have had a significant possibility of death. Barring questions whose answers could result in harm to the asker would basically shut down AskMe.
posted by Mitheral at 3:12 PM on September 7, 2010


There are no legal interpretations needed.

This is probably moving a little far afield of the original callout, but I really am curious what mefite-lawyers think about how we know when a question is a law-related question and when it isn't, especially those of us who aren't lawyers. There are the obvious ones ("My ex wants to stop paying child support and won't answer any of my emails or calls, what should I do?") (I made that up), and then there are the less-obvious ones, which may be even less obvious to those of us without a JD.

The question linked in this callout really doesn't seem like a question only a lawyer can answer. Perhaps it is a question that can be best answered by a lawyer, but the information is also out there on the US and Canada's very own immigration sites, which seems to imply that not all immigration questions or needs require a lawyer.
posted by rtha at 3:15 PM on September 7, 2010


Barring questions whose answers could result in harm to the asker would basically shut down AskMe.

I would strongly suggest that MetaFilter's officers consult with legal counsel regarding policy as to whether certain types of questions should be allowed. I'm not kidding. I am not providing any legal advice to anyone here or to MetaFilter. I'm just saying that MetaFilter should consult with counsel on a regular basis.
posted by The World Famous at 3:17 PM on September 7, 2010


I'm not totally sure why this got called out. I made an effort to make it clear that I don't know jack about immigration processes, and that I wasn't trying to game the system. Metafilter is just a jumping-off point where I hoped to gain some insight on a subject I'm unfamiliar with, and I would never use it as my only source of information, or accept someone's advice as legal counsel.

I just happened to fall in love with someone whose home country is different than mine, and I wanted to look into what may or may not lie ahead of us.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:23 PM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The World Famous writes "I would strongly suggest that MetaFilter's officers consult with legal counsel regarding policy as to whether certain types of questions should be allowed."

Matt has said repeatedly that he has done so and is comfortable with these types of questions being posted here at least as far as the continued existence of Metafilter is concerned.
posted by Mitheral at 3:37 PM on September 7, 2010


I would strongly suggest that MetaFilter's officers consult with legal counsel regarding policy as to whether certain types of questions should be allowed. I'm not kidding. I am not providing any legal advice to anyone here or to MetaFilter. I'm just saying that MetaFilter should consult with counsel on a regular basis.

My understanding is that Matt has in fact done this. Again, this is not a new topic. I don't mean to be dismissive about it because as I said already we do understand the concerns, but this is not some new unconsidered idea on the site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:39 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't commented on any immigration questions yet (I think), because my experiences weren't along the same lines - but I think that the advice given here is generally good. Rou_Xenophobe's advice always seems right on point, for example.

As for immigration lawyers - sure, if you've got a complicated situation, that's usually a logical plan. People need to remember, though, that not all lawyers are good lawyers. I had a rather complicated situation involving an nearly expired K-1, and a plan to do direct consular filing. The immigration lawyer we went to said it was impossible, don't do it. He said it had a 0% chance of succeeding.

To make a long story short, it wasn't - I got it done, with a lot of tips from Visa Journey etc...
posted by HopperFan at 3:43 PM on September 7, 2010


I'm not totally sure why this got called out. I made an effort to make it clear that I don't know jack about immigration processes, and that I wasn't trying to game the system. Metafilter is just a jumping-off point where I hoped to gain some insight on a subject I'm unfamiliar with, and I would never use it as my only source of information, or accept someone's advice as legal counsel.

I just happened to fall in love with someone whose home country is different than mine, and I wanted to look into what may or may not lie ahead of us.


Please know we aren't talking about you or your question. Its the answers we are concerned with.

I think that there are a lot of legal services organizations that can help for little or no cost. They have lawyers on staff. The stuff gets looked at. Nobody is saying that you must pay $700.00 an hour. Just tap into other resources where a licensed practitioner is involved.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2010


Please know we aren't talking about you or your question....I think that there are a lot of legal services organizations that can help for little or no cost.

But does rachaelfaith need legal advice at this stage of things? Was her question one that should only be answered by a lawyer?

Broken record, I know. Sorry. But no one but TWF has addressed this, and it was the question called out as the canonical YOU NEED A LAWYER question, when it's far from clear that that's what it is.
posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth, I understand that you're trying to be helpful- and there are other lawyers and people jumping in and giving their two cents- but my final point will be this: If someone wants to answer the question, isn't that their prerogative? There was no specific callout asking for only lawyers to answer, or for concrete legal advice.

If the relationship progresses, I might seek out a lawyer or someone more familiar with the legal bit than me. But in the meantime, what is the harm in asking or answering a fairly open-ended question?

For me, asking Metafilter is like reading Wikipedia. It's all user-submitted, and the information comes from all sorts of places, but I don't plan on taking any of it verbatim or making any rash decisions based on answers. When the time comes, I'll put in the legwork and read up on more in-depth paperwork or consider hiring counsel if things get tricky.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:57 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, I understand your concerns, but think your point would be more valid if people here were misrepresenting themselves as lawyers (or any other kind of licensed professional) or accepting money for advice.

Actual lawyers are held to a higher ethical standard in this regard than laypeople. I don't think it's fair to hold all Metafilter uses to lawyers' professional standards of conduct.

Maybe Askme would benefit from making this clear in a disclaimer or TOS.

But I think, in general, people who post questions like this to Ask Metafilter understand they're not talking to a lawyer and understand that the answers aren't all correct.
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2010


Alternately, what rachaelfaith just said.
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:07 PM on September 7, 2010


The law is not a precious fucking snowflake. It belongs to everyone. Lawyers are just trying to make you scared of it. That's their job.
posted by Jimbob at 4:13 PM on September 7, 2010


No, it's really not a lawyer's job to make you scared of the law, and I don't think Ironmouth trying to make anyone scared of the law. Generally, I agree with him that lay answers to questions involving the law can lead to terrible complications. I don't think pointing that out is in any way an attempt to make people scared of trying to understand the law. It's just reminding you that making educated guesses about the law is a really excellent way to screw yourself, permanently. Obviously, he & I ultimately fall on opposite sides of the issue where the issue is "should questions that may require one to draw upon the law for the best answer be allowed?" but really, you should never ever forget that when you ask.metafilter about something controlled entirely by the legal system you are entering very dangerous waters.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:32 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The law is not a precious fucking snowflake. It belongs to everyone. Lawyers are just trying to make you scared of it. That's their job.

It's true. The bar exam doesn't actually have any legal questions. It just has one question: What is your job? To pass the bar, you have to write "to make people scared of the law" over and over again for three days straight. If you accidentally pretend that any knowledge, research, or analysis is necessary, they kick you right out of the profession.
posted by The World Famous at 4:33 PM on September 7, 2010


There has been some absolutely terrible advice given, very occassionally criminal. Advice that would get a lawyer disbarred if he or she was to give it.

That is sort of the point of the bar; the certification is an expectation. People would not take advice from a non-lawyer the same way they would from a lawyer. It's absurd to even mention.

Even an unknowable concept such as a god does not take "several hours" to explain unless the person wishes to milk several hours out of it. The fact is people are better served by acquiring more knowledge whether they go to an 'expert' or not. One could, forgoing the proposed issues of risk, extend this complaint to the issue of car mechanics. A good mechanic, lawyer, or doctor is not easy to find. Knowing basic things will help you; misinformation can be corrected. The types of resources people link tend not to contain misinformation and instead dispel such. They tend to educate people in a sound, peripheral manner to whatever degree the person is willing to invest reading. Such knowledge is insufficient to treat a disease or argue a case in court, but it is not insufficient to know where the road may lead.

People should be more careful in general about their AskMe responses as people try to chip in when they really don't have any real advice to give, but the idea that certain fields of questions are bad because professional experts can give endless amounts of information on the broader topic, better advice, or an actionable service for a fee is not reasonable.
posted by rob paxon at 4:38 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, the notion that the input (whatever it may be) of someone who actually went through an ordeal -- having to not only process this information/advice (typically with the help of a professional) but also make a decision and live through its consequence -- is not worth spit next to that of the expert who merely advises is not just a little bit condescending.
posted by rob paxon at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2010


Let's all keep in mind who writes the laws that the lawyers are bound by.
posted by smackfu at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2010


Let's all keep in mind who writes the laws that the lawyers are bound by.

Legislative counsel employed by the government. Curses!!
posted by The World Famous at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2010


(Or was the answer supposed to be "lobbyists?")
posted by The World Famous at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2010


It's true. The bar exam doesn't actually have any legal questions. It just has one question: What is your job? To pass the bar, you have to write "to make people scared of the law" over and over again for three days straight. If you accidentally pretend that any knowledge, research, or analysis is necessary, they kick you right out of the profession.
posted by The World Famous


Your sarcasm doesn't do much damage to his point. The field of law is by esoteric design meant to be out of the grubby hands of common yokels. Except it's not. Too much information is out there and easily understood in a variety of manners. The complexities and nuances of law and especially legal practice do not matter to the typical queries which people raise.

It is empowering for people to seek and share information about how THEIR legal system works, how THEIR bodies work, etc.

A lawyer is necessary when you need to go to court. Whatever assumptions or decisions you may have made beforehand, once you actually consult a lawyer, you'll be forced to re-weigh your options in light of what he says. A lawyer is no less helpful when you want to understand your options in the first place or what the law states on a matter, but then again neither are the countless other resources including a community of people relaying information, anecdotes, and resources in response to very specific questions.
posted by rob paxon at 4:52 PM on September 7, 2010


Well he's something to think about then.

We're commonly told "ignorance of the law does not excuse". I don't know about you, but I've never been handed a guidebook telling me what all the laws I have to abide by on a daily basis are, in simple plain English, by the people making or enforcing those laws. And yet we're all told we have to know the law, and have to abide by it.

The law is, unfortunately, something that we do all have to learn about on our own, from whatever sources are available, in whatever way possible. By asking people questions. But the attitude from Ironmouth smacks of "The only people who you should ever listen to in regards to the law are lawyers! It's dangerous if you don't! Never, ever attempt to learn about the law yourself, or ask other non-lawyer people about the law! It's dangerous!"

We're supposed to know the law, because ignorance is no excuse. But apparently the only way we're allowed to find out about the law is via lawyers. Who refuse to help you out for free. That sounds like a complete fucking scam.
posted by Jimbob at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2010


Jimbob, it's not all so bad. At least you can get medication without consulting a doctor and His Nominal Fee.
posted by rob paxon at 5:04 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that there are a lot of legal services organizations that can help for little or no cost. They have lawyers on staff. The stuff gets looked at. Nobody is saying that you must pay $700.00 an hour. Just tap into other resources where a licensed practitioner is involved.

This is one of the dangerous things with immigration. An immigration lawyer can help you navigate through USCIS and State. A fully licensed attorney who is not an immigration attorney has the serious possibility of being no real help, but expensive, or even a small but realistic chance of being an actual hindrance.

If you want to talk to someone about your options in a more formal setting, you might look up immigration-related charities; Lord knows there must be some in Jersey. They might have legal or paralegal people they're hooked up with.

Alternately, ask around about your US Representative and Senators to see who has the best reputation for constituent service, and contact their staff for information. I know Ironmouth is thinking of this as a legal problem, but it's also very much a "bureaucratic tips" problem, and MCs have staff who are experts in the federal bureaucracy. A lot of what they do is beating on agencies to make them cough up benefits, but they should also have someone who can make the connections from "Here is my problem" to the "correct" bureaucratic solution.

Where the wrong answer could cost the person their freedom, or tens of thousands of dollars.

I'm trying not to be pissy, but asking for suggestions about cars falls into this category.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:09 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


A lawyer is necessary when you need to go to court. Whatever assumptions or decisions you may have made beforehand, once you actually consult a lawyer, you'll be forced to re-weigh your options in light of what he says. A lawyer is no less helpful when you want to understand your options in the first place or what the law states on a matter, but then again neither are the countless other resources including a community of people relaying information, anecdotes, and resources in response to very specific questions.

If you're going to advocate making important legal decisions without consulting with counsel, just remember that you're keeping litigators in business by doing so.

Jimbob, it's not a question of lawyers being the only people from whom you should learn about the law. It's that only lawyers are permitted, in many jurisdictions, to render legal advice. There is a crucial distinction between informing someone of what the law is and interpreting the law and rendering legal advice.

Moreover, when someone has a specific legal issue, the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine are extraordinarily important tools in helping that person. I always cringe when I see someone waiving the attorney-client privilege on MetaFilter.
posted by The World Famous at 5:26 PM on September 7, 2010


Out-of-curiosity question: If someone on askme asks a clearly law-related question, and another mefite says "You should do [x]" and the asker goes ahead and does [x] and it's a bad thing that gets them in (deeper) legal/criminal trouble....what happens? If the mefite who said "do [x]" did not represent themselves as an attorney, or their advice as legal advice, do they get in trouble? Does mathowie/the metafilter corporation get in trouble? Is it different if the answerer explicitly says "IANALandTINLA"?

I understand that anyone can sue anyone else for practically any reason, but does the asker have a legal leg to stand on? (If there are cases about this issue that are discussed in relatively jargon-free ways, links would be appreciated.) (I thought about taking this to askme but that seemed stunty, which is not what I'm trying to do. I'm just interested, and don't know what kinds of terms to use for an effective search.)
posted by rtha at 5:41 PM on September 7, 2010


How do those radio call-in shows get away with giving out legal advice on all sorts of topics if it's such a minefield, where even commenting on a thread to correct some blatant misinformation might get you debarred?

I don't get it.
posted by cj_ at 5:46 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a crucial distinction between informing someone of what the law is and interpreting the law and rendering legal advice.

So, I'm allowed to be told what the strict letter of the law is, but not what it actually means in practice? Not even the experiences of non-lawyers who went through the same situation? Gotcha.

Where the wrong answer could cost the person their freedom, or tens of thousands of dollars.

Well in my specialized, esoteric field that required 8 years of university study, the wrong answer could, in theory kill the planet. But I manage not to get pissy when laymen answer questions about science.
posted by Jimbob at 5:50 PM on September 7, 2010


To pass the bar, you have to write "to make people scared of the law" over and over again for three days straight.

And then you have to submit a time sheet that bills 96 hours for it.
posted by ctmf at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2010


If you're going to advocate making important legal decisions without consulting with counsel, just remember that you're keeping litigators in business by doing so.

Didn't, though I suppose this is a matter of what you deem "important" and at what point something that is not necessarily a legal matter becomes one. As has been pointed out, something governed by law is not necessarily a strictly "legal" matter. I am merely advocating people be free and encouraged to educate themselves as much as possible about the law, as is necessary for a properly functioning open society. Particularly so when they have a specific issue in their lives.

The wisdom of seeking or requiring a lawyer for a matter is completely irrelevant to this point. Further, a poster being advised to seek a lawyer is a worthwhile function of such questions. The only downside, misinformation, already exists and is being exposed to people. This is as fairly ideal a forum for dealing with misinformation as it gets outside of a professional service, either directly or through provided resources.

It's that only lawyers are permitted, in many jurisdictions, to render legal advice. There is a crucial distinction between informing someone of what the law is and interpreting the law and rendering legal advice.

It's unfortunate that I am compelled to say this because it is a rather separate matter from what I've said so far and people are naturally prone to taking this less kosher attitude and using it to relate to and discredit another matter entirely. However, it must be pointed out. This distinction is absurd. People are free to give advice, in all manner of subjects. People are free to share knowledge. If someone is capable of rendering advice based on knowledge, experience, context, and intuition in other subjects and is free to share/demonstrate knowledge on this particular subject, how can he not be free to give advice on this particular subject?

I question whatever these jurisdiction's laws may be and how you are defining "legal advice" as I suspect they deal strictly with misrepresenting as credentialed/professional legal council, but for no legitimate reason should anyone be barred from exchanging knowledge, advice, or suggestions on any subject unless they are misrepresenting credentials. That includes someone charging for services. If someone is not being identified as a lawyer with a particular bar then any theoretical reasonable individual will know how to weigh this information. Any sort of law like this is put in place at the behest of trade organizations for the express purpose of protectionism.

And for the last bit, no one waives "attorney-client privilege" when there is no attorney. Stop shoehorning any kind of legal discussion into that of a client and an attorney, as if any participant becomes a surrogate attorney, passing himself off as a credentialed legal expert with the met requirements, privileges, and expectations associated.
posted by rob paxon at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2010


I'm sorry but...are you all friggin' kidding me?! So, for those of us that are lucky enough to be involved in a Visa/immigration nightmare (go me!), we get to try to walk on the right side of some line of "appropriate for MetaFilter" that is extra special nuanced, where the standard set of deletion rules don't apply?

How about this...for all questions with solutions requiring an immigration lawyer, somebody thoughtfully tells the poster, "Hey, this sounds like a job for an immigration lawyer!" See, that way, the nightmare gets to end with some publicly available sound advice. And for those who don't need an immigration lawyer, the nightmare gets to end that much sooner and the OP is not left wondering as helpless as before. Much better than the deletion door unnecessarily slamming in your face I think.

Sorry. I'm a little riled up about this callout...as someone who probably would have LOST HER FRIGGIN' MIND if not for the wonderful perspective, advice and support of this community. Regardless of whether the response might have overwhelmingly been "get a laywer" or not.

It's this sort of petty policing that creates and perpetuates these types of problems in the first place. If people need help, they should be able to ask for it here. If it's too complicated or requires extra special advice that the community can't provide directly, that doesn't mean the community should just let them hang. What kind of world do we live in where we'd consider not even allowing questions that must be answered with "get an immigration lawyer"? What if you don't know that the solution you need is "get an immigration lawyer?"*

*In my case, if the solution was "get an immigration lawyer" that would have been news to me. Also, the fact that the solution wasn't necessarily "get an immigration lawyer" was also news to me.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:04 PM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


IMO, unless someone claims to be a lawyer, then I don't care what advice they give on the internet. I always make the assumption that answers on ask me are well-intentioned, but possibly incorrect guesses at an answer. I would never, ever act on medical or legal advice from metafilter until I actually talked to a doctor or lawyer.

In fact, how about a disclaimer on askme when asking a question:

"Any answers you may get on financial, medical or legal questions may be wildly incorrect and/or dangerous. Please do not act on the sole advice of metafilter users until you've consulted with a professional."
posted by empath at 6:04 PM on September 7, 2010


Ironmouth: Please know we aren't talking about you or your question. Its the answers we are concerned with.

I think that there are a lot of legal services organizations that can help for little or no cost .... Just tap into other resources where a licensed practitioner is involved.

Except that dfriedman's post was calling for all questions about immigration to be banned, and used this question as an example.

This, along with this comment, are the first hints we've had that you think questions rachaelfaith's are OK, or that you think it's it OK for us point each other to resources we know about or share tips about dealing with bureaucracy.

The World Famous: There is a crucial distinction between informing someone of what the law is and interpreting the law and rendering legal advice.

Thanks!
posted by nangar at 6:20 PM on September 7, 2010


Q: Should I eat this?

A: Consult a registered dietitian.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:20 PM on September 7, 2010


Q: Should I eat this?

A: Consult a registered dietitian.


OMG you're so gonna get sued. A dietitian isn't qualified to tell you if that soup you left on the stove overnight is still okay to eat, or if that cheese "smell funny" in a way that's perfect or it might kill you! Only a registered microbiologist with a specialty in food safety can answer those questions!
posted by rtha at 6:31 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Out-of-curiosity question: If someone on askme asks a clearly law-related question, and another mefite says "You should do [x]" and the asker goes ahead and does [x] and it's a bad thing that gets them in (deeper) legal/criminal trouble....what happens? If the mefite who said "do [x]" did not represent themselves as an attorney, or their advice as legal advice, do they get in trouble? Does mathowie/the metafilter corporation get in trouble? Is it different if the answerer explicitly says "IANALandTINLA"?

I have the same question. Could one of our lawyer members look that up? How many times has someone been found guilty of rendering legal advice/practicing law in situations such as the ones that come up on this site, in which the person giving advice or opinion has made it clear that they are not a lawyer?
posted by Houstonian at 6:33 PM on September 7, 2010


posted by nangar dfriedman was suggesting that all questions about immigration be deleted

No, he wasn't.

posted by nangar Except that dfriedman's post was calling for all questions about immigration to be banned

No, he wasn't. He asked:

posted by dfriedman What is the penchant for asking immigration law-related questions on AskMe? Immigration laws are very complex; the only answer should be "speak with an immigration lawyer." Is there any practical reason these questions are asked, but not deleted?
posted by mattdidthat at 6:36 PM on September 7, 2010


Is there any practical reason these questions are asked, but not deleted?

I took that as a rhetorical question.
posted by nangar at 6:38 PM on September 7, 2010


No, he wasn't. He asked:

Did Glenn Beck ... in 1989?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:40 PM on September 7, 2010


How many times has someone been found guilty of rendering legal advice/practicing law in situations such as the ones that come up on this site, in which the person giving advice or opinion has made it clear that they are not a lawyer?

I feel like we get into this cul-de-sac in MeTa every six months or so. The answer is usually some variation of "never" or "there was this one time but the specifics are totally not like this even a little bit" though someone is more than welcome to go look them up. People have alluded to but not specifed other possible problems. I get, really totally get, that lawyers do not want to answer or give advice in these threads. I also get that they are all wincy and uncomfortable watching non-lawyers give bad advice in these threads, advice that could be very bad for the lawyers if they were the ones giving the advice.

However, some random dork on the internet saying "Well from my understanding of landlord-tenant law, what you should do is THIS..." does not concern us at a risk management level. That is, we understand there is a less-than-zero liklihood of there being a problem and we are okay with that. More to the point, mathowie is okay with it and it's his call. And he has a lawyer. If you think he should not be okay with that, you should contact him directly to speak with him about it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:41 PM on September 7, 2010


I wasn't calling for questions about immigration to be banned. I was asking why they weren't. I have since seen that this is a controversial question for me to pose.
posted by dfriedman at 8:40 PM on September 7, 2010


Jimbob writes "We're commonly told 'ignorance of the law does not excuse'. I don't know about you, but I've never been handed a guidebook telling me what all the laws I have to abide by on a daily basis are, in simple plain English, by the people making or enforcing those laws. And yet we're all told we have to know the law, and have to abide by it."

I've heard that US Laws (and Canada's no doubt) are basically unknowable by any single person. The current laws and regulations enforceable as law run to so much text that if a person started reading in grade one they wouldn't make it though before death. And new laws are being created all the time. Stuff like the PATRIOT Act run to several hundred pages and most of that merely amendments to existing regulations.

And that doesn't even touch on actually making sense of the regulations; There are thousands of different specialities in law each of which understands their narrow little piece.

rtha writes "If someone on askme asks a clearly law-related question, and another mefite says 'You should do [x]' and the asker goes ahead and does [x] and it's a bad thing that gets them in (deeper) legal/criminal trouble....what happens? If the mefite who said 'do [x]' did not represent themselves as an attorney, or their advice as legal advice, do they get in trouble? Does mathowie/the metafilter corporation get in trouble? Is it different if the answerer explicitly says 'IANALandTINLA'?"

Nothing happens. I've asked this several times in these sorts of threads and no one has ever been able to cite a case where a site (even broadly encompassing BBSes, Usenet and the web) not in some way claiming to be giving authoritative legal advice has ever been successfully prosecuted or sued.
posted by Mitheral at 10:22 PM on September 7, 2010


Again: neighbors share amateur relationship, medical and legal advice *all the time* in non-internet life. Every time this comes up, the Ironmouths of the world never seem to be able to explain exactly why this perfectly ordinary sharing of stories, suggestions, information and advice between humans should be banned simply because it happens over a computer network.
posted by mediareport at 11:07 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


ROU_X and others got there upthread. A lot of family-based cases are primarily bureaucratic tedium: they don't need lawyering. I have never used a lawyer for my own immigration stuff, even during the inevitable FUBAR moments when I got three different sets of advice from two different official sources. I appear to have survived without deportation for the moment.

I think the community works pretty well on these questions, for the same reason that VisaJourney seems to work well: when you have a primarily bureaucratic process, then you have a large group of people who have filled out the forms, know the slip-ups, have parsed the jargon, and know their I-485s from their I-765s. (And who, generally, know the hassle caused by stupid red tape and want to spare others from it.)

When things are more complex, people with clue will generally say so. When people without clue jump in, people with clue will correct them. When it's simple stuff but the poster sounds out of his/her depth, then it's usually suggested that he/she seek legal advice. The answers will often provide good (money-saving!) prep for that initial consultation, because they'll go to an appropriate lawyer with the right questions in hand.

I wasn't calling for questions about immigration to be banned. I was asking why they weren't.

I believe lawyers call what you asked a leading question; since I'm not a lawyer, I shan't bill you for that one.
posted by holgate at 11:22 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


TWF: Here's the simple rule of thumb: Anyone who gives legal advice in response to an AskMetafilter question lacks credibility.

ITYM "credentials". Same root, different meaning.

The good lawyers and the shitty ones may be alike in their silence on those threads, but that doesn't make the shitty ones any less shitty. But who's to know the difference, when Only Lawyers Have The Answer?

I say all that as someone with a high baseline of respect for members of the legal profession, though I don't think the tag-team in this particular thread has done the best promotional job on its behalf.
posted by holgate at 11:44 PM on September 7, 2010


it's not a question of lawyers being the only people from whom you should learn about the law. It's that only lawyers are permitted, in many jurisdictions, to render legal advice. There is a crucial distinction between informing someone of what the law is and interpreting the law and rendering legal advice.

I've already discussed in another thread how this is a tautology. Legal Advice, in the context you are using it, has a very specific meaning. Legal Advice can only come from a lawyer, or someone falsely presenting themself as a lawyer. A regular person, not making any special claims to professional accreditation, and not charging any fees, doesn't fit the definition. Permitted or not doesn't enter into it.
(surely you lawyers have colleagues who will consult with you on this question, surely they'll give you a special lawyer-2-lawyer rate for the advice session, surely you have a professional obligation to stop misleading people once you've been properly informed)
posted by Chuckles at 12:07 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think Ironmouth trying to make anyone scared of the law.

Based on these comments, I'm not sure you are right:

When a screw up could result in someone being barred from applying or even entering the country they want to work, live, go to school in, or marry someone in.

Where answers given by participants that are supposed to *help* would result in criminal sanctions being applied to the questioner if the question was answered.

Where the wrong answer could cost the person their freedom, or tens of thousands of dollars...

There are important reasons for that, the main one being that the law is unbending and its results are really fucking final. You know they can lock you up, take your money and prevent you from entering a country for a period of time or even permanently. You can always appeal to your husband and wife for forgiveness or understanding, but if you miss that deadline or improperly plead your case, there is no appeal. No changing, no reversal, no nothing. You lose big and the force of the state is here to show you the door.


Again, and for the last time: Immigration officials are not going to bar you for filling out a form incorrectly by accident. No one is going to get permanently banned because they screwed up a simple form. In fact, I'd like to know how you could even accidentally admit to being part of the holocaust, a drug smuggler, a sex worker, a human trafficker, or a member of Hamas on one of the two 3x5 inch entry forms you would have to fill out as a Candian coming in as a nonimmigrant? "My middle initial is R and I have nothing to declare except that I recruited fourth graders to overthrow the government of Angola, OOPS!." But certainly, as a lawyer, you should know what constitutes willful misrepresentation of material facts and a mistake in filling out a simple form.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:28 AM on September 8, 2010


Legal Advice, in the context you are using it, has a very specific meaning. Legal Advice can only come from a lawyer, or someone falsely presenting themself as a lawyer. A regular person, not making any special claims to professional accreditation, and not charging any fees, doesn't fit the definition. Permitted or not doesn't enter into it.

FWIW, I also looked up "practicing medicine" in a similar thread about medical advice, and in every state where I could actually find the law, the person had to represent that they were a doctor and in some cases, to accept some kind of compensation.
posted by empath at 5:33 AM on September 8, 2010


Man. How many times? Many areas in life -- law, medicine, electrical work, investing -- are often best addressed by qualified professionals. In many areas, bad or mistaken advice can lead to terrible results. Law is not special in this regard. All of the arguments against allowing legal questions apply equally to many other areas in life -- the arguments, if correct, prove only that the whole site should be shut down. Which is obviously wrong.
posted by Mid at 6:27 AM on September 8, 2010


Also - as others have noted - we did this exact same thread about six months ago, with most of the players in this thread (including me) making the same arguments as here.
posted by Mid at 6:48 AM on September 8, 2010


Oh - this is the thread I was thinking of, yet another one, eight months ago.
posted by Mid at 6:53 AM on September 8, 2010


I think, 10th, Ironmouth is not trying to make people scared of the law but trying to make people cognizant of (and maybe frightened of) the risks in approaching legal questions without the benefit of someone who really understands the question and the law which governs the answer. It's not even a subtle distinction. Maybe you are right and his goal is to terrify people about legal issues, but I don't see it.

However, I was really taking issue with the idea that lawyers as a rule want and try to make people ignorant of, and frightened by, the law. Good legal thinkers simply do not believe that only special law school educated people can understand the law. Someone who understands the law doesn't argue that lay people should be frightened of the law because they are incapable of understanding it, even if they argue caution in the face of severe legal consequences.

It really is easy to pick up just enough to significantly hurt yourself in a legal proceeding. It's also easy to know just enough to make the wrong choice. God knows, clients who do their own research are the most difficult clients. Nonetheless, this does not mean that conscientious lawyers--and adept legal minds--work to hide the law and its meaning from the lay public. Every legal aid organization, every self-help desk in a courthouse, every civil liberties organization in America is based upon the idea that we all can and should understand some very basic things about the law and how it works. I would be surprised if his point truly was that no-one can learn about the law from other people's experiences with it.

I would not be surprised, however, if his point was that using other people's experiences with the law as a basis for choosing a course of action in a legal proceeding is a bad idea. It is a dangerous thing to approach a legal decision without basing it upon vetted information, which will come from some sort of licensed legal professional, not from chatting with random strangers.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:15 AM on September 8, 2010


One of the call-outs Mid linked to was clearly a legal question. Almost all of the answers to that qusetion were variants of "get a lawyer," frequently with explanations along the lines of 'it will be more expensive not hire a lawyer than to hire one,' 'this is complex,' 'hiring a lawyer can deter the other side from trying to screw you over.' The answer marked as best was a link to information on finding an affordable lawyer.

This question illustrates why asking legal questions on AskMe isn't useless, and isn't necessarily dangerous. The OP was apparently determined to wing it without a lawyer, after being told almost unanimously that that was a bad idea and pointed to information on finding affordable legal resources, she apparently decided not to that.
posted by nangar at 7:27 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think, 10th, Ironmouth is not trying to make people scared of the law but trying to make people cognizant of (and maybe frightened of) the risks in approaching legal questions without the benefit of someone who really understands the question and the law which governs the answer. It's not even a subtle distinction. Maybe you are right and his goal is to terrify people about legal issues, but I don't see it.

I don't know that Ironmouth is intentionally trying to make people afraid, but conflating the potential outcome of a simple legal issue is certainly not a constructive means of making his point. If someone asks if they should get a commercial drivers licence or a regular one because they might drive their church van every once and a while, the answer is not: LAWYER NOW! YOU COULD BE CONVICTED OF VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER IF YOU FILL OUT THE WRONG APPLICATION BOX!!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:39 AM on September 8, 2010


Nangar - right. These discussions almost always lack any specific examples of legal-related advice on AskMe that is (a) wrong; (b) presented as authoritative legal advice (i.e., not "IANAL, but maybe this would work . . ."); and (c) likely to lead to some serious consequence (i.e., not "here is how you should get your $250 security deposit back"). Even if (a)-(c) are satisfied, I would be surprised if there were not several other comments in the thread to the effect of "that is probably not right, you should see a lawyer." Nonethless, every time this topic comes up, certain commenters argue about all of the horrible legal advice they have observed in AskMe, with no actual examples.
posted by Mid at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2010


God knows, clients who do their own research are the most difficult clients.

wtfffffffff
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2010


I wasn't calling for questions about immigration to be banned. I was asking why they weren't. I have since seen that this is a controversial question for me to pose.

OK. I apologize. I'd be surprised though if I was the only one to interpret this question as rhetorical. I don't think many of have been arguing that it's OK for non-lawyers to give legal advice. (Actually, I don't think any of us have, but I may have missed a comment or two somewhere.) We have been arguing though that it's OK for us to point people to legal resources, recommend lawyers, read government websites made available to explain regulations to the public, share tips and experiences about dealing with bureaucracy, that it's OK for us to try to gain some understanding of the law so we can understand when we need a lawyer, what questions we need to ask, and when we might be violating it.

I think a lot of us have been arguing this because you and Ironmouth seemed to be saying that it was not OK for us to do any of those things. I know it's much more charitable to assume that neither you or Ironmouth meant that. (Speaking for myself, I did take your question as rhetorical, but I assumed that Ironmouth couldn't possibly mean what he seemed to be saying.)

With any question there's a risk of getting a wrong answer. Sometimes wrong answers can be dangerous, whether it's a legal issue or a wiring problem. (Legal issues aren't the only ones where mistakes can have serious and sometimes final consequences.) The idea of asking questions to a bunch of people is that you'll get a bunch of answers. Hopefully wrong answers will be outweighed by a chorus of people saying 'no, don't do that' and the asker will be able to tell the difference.

Hopefully the benefits of AskMe outweigh the risks, and would be do-it-yourselfers listen to 'hire a lawyer' or 'hire an electrician' most of the time if that what they need to hear. A skeevy as some of these questions can be, I think it's better to let people ask them so they can hear 'don't do that, this is why,' than not to let people ask questions about potentially dangerous things at all. We can only hope they listen.
posted by nangar at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2010


God knows, clients who do their own research are the most difficult clients.

wtfffffffff


It's the same as patients who go in to see the doctor having compiled, with the help of WebMD, a large list of all the diseases they might have, asking for various medicines and treatments that aren't necessarily appropriate or proper.

There's a lot of information out there online that isn't wrong, per se, but that's misleading or inaccurate or overly general, particularly when it's presented in a way that's either divorced from the underlying facts. I have a lot of friends who practice personal injury and their worst clients are the ones who come in having done their own research, convinced they have multi-million dollar claims based on some anecdata they found on the internet. It's hard to convince those clients to accept that their (perfectly valid) claim is worth only $20,000.

That's not to say that being informed is a bad thing -- it's not. I am big proponent of educating yourself on what medications your doctor is prescribing and on what your rights are in various situations. But at some point, as a layperson, you have to realize that the professional -- medical or legal -- has a better grasp on the Big Picture. Clients who insist that they know more than their lawyer because they've researched it are difficult clients.*

*Of course, good lawyers will often provide their clients with solid resources so they can weigh their options -- the options that are actually available rather than the ones the client thinks are viable.
posted by devinemissk at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2010


It's the same as patients who go in to see the doctor having compiled, with the help of WebMD, a large list of all the diseases they might have, asking for various medicines and treatments that aren't necessarily appropriate or proper.

Which has to suck to deal with. But for every person who wanders in with an armload of cyberchondria, there's a lot of people who use the internet to do some research and then walk in and say "hey, professional, I need your help (with what may be x I guess?) but I'm not a doctor so you tell me". The people who don't wear their unrestrained Internet Autodidact wackiness on their sleeves are just, you know, patients. They don't get credit for being not nutty, they just show up and do the normal patient routine and that's it.

Those are the same people who would, twenty years ago, have walked in the door with some random advice and anecdotes from their friends or family handy but still proceeded to ask the doc to tell them what's actually going on since they knew they were visiting a doctor for a reason.

Clients and patients and so on who badly overestimate the value of their own research are, I am sure, a pain in the ass to deal with. Clients and patients and so on who do their own research but understand that they're just trying to develop some familiarity with their situation rather than prepping for a pissing match with the professional they're going to visit, that's another thing entirely. The latter can end up feeling a little shat on by overly broad dismissiveness about the former, much as I can totally understand the frustration of the professionals and dig their need to beef about things as much anyone.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:20 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clients and patients and so on who do their own research but understand that they're just trying to develop some familiarity with their situation rather than prepping for a pissing match with the professional they're going to visit, that's another thing entirely.

Oh, absolutely. I think I said earlier that I thought the callout in this thread was out of place for precisely that reason -- the original question definitely seemed to be an example of "trying to develop some familiarity with [the] situation" and not "please give me legal advice." The OP was trying to figure out the lay of the land. And that kind of research is good. (And, I should note, it's the kind of research I think we mostly see here on Metafilter.)

I do think, though, that as more and more information becomes available on the internet, doctors and lawyers (and auto mechanics and plumbers and air conditioner repairmen) deal with more and more patients and clients who have already self-diagnosed their problems and are only seeing the professional because they have to (to get medication, or have a complaint filed, or gain access to the tools needed to fix the car or toilet or air conditioner). It's not that this phenomenon is new; I think it's just much more common.
posted by devinemissk at 9:59 AM on September 8, 2010


I do think, though, that as more and more information becomes available on the internet, doctors and lawyers (and auto mechanics and plumbers and air conditioner repairmen) deal with more and more patients and clients who have already self-diagnosed their problems and are only seeing the professional because they have to (to get medication, or have a complaint filed, or gain access to the tools needed to fix the car or toilet or air conditioner). It's not that this phenomenon is new; I think it's just much more common.

(a) If there is statistical support for the suggestion that more information results in a larger quantity of incorrectly self-analyzed individuals - it has not been presented here

(b) To be meaningful, that statistic would also have to be accompanied by some information about how many outcomes have been superior because the customer was informed in advance. Meaning, did we see a 2% increase in PITA patients but 3% were treated more promptly or correctly?

(c) There is the additional unknowable quantity of people whose self-discovered knowledge allows them to avoid seeing the professional entirely. Either by learning how to write a good letter demanding action, altering their diet to address their cholesterol, asking their home builder to install assisted-flush toilets so they have less clogs... whatever.

In case it's not brutally obvious, I believe that an informed customer base is a net win for competent professionals.

Really anyone with a serious bug up their ass about ill-informed patients should shut the hell up here and go after the abysmal state of law in the US that allows prescription drug advertising direct to consumers. Perhaps the internet has simply failed to take enough doctors on golf junkets, however, and that's the real cause of disparity.

Personally I admire the lawyers who come out here and beat this same old drum over and over again. Usually they rely on the bar association for their state to sue companies picking their low-hanging fruit by doing things like offering boilerplate wills. I suppose it's always possible they're having their paralegals do their Metafilter broken-record act, though.
posted by phearlez at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2010


Clients and patients and so on who badly overestimate the value of their own research are, I am sure, a pain in the ass to deal with.

Well, sure, that's why people post those graphic/web/interior designer blogs about unbelievably stupid shit micromanaging clueless clients say all the time. It's funny because no-one around here considers their web designer to be The Enemy who is Overpaid for Shit Any Moron with the Internet can do. But around here, lawyers are totally the enemy. It seems to get worse if they/we point out that what they/we are trained to do is not something you can pick up through conversation and skimming statutes.

Clients and patients and so on who do their own research but understand that they're just trying to develop some familiarity with their situation rather than prepping for a pissing match with the professional they're going to visit, that's another thing entirely.

Right, which is why chatting with your neighbors or asking metafilter about your experiences with a type of law suit or legal issue is a good idea. I don't have a problem with legal questions (except that one time I gave really bad advice in one and asked Jessamyn to delete my answer. Which she promptly did without reproach, but I was mortified and I think I hid from metafilter for at least a week thereafter), I do have a problem with people attributing nasty motives to attorneys who do take issue with it. I also have a problem with people who discount the danger in legal advice from the internet.

I think people should keep in mind that it's just a starting point. A competent paralegal or clerk can draw up a simple stock transfer sales agreement, but you don't want to sign it until an attorney protecting your interest has reviewed it. A well-written self-help packet can get you through landlord-tenant court, but when you have to go to trial, you don't want to rely on one that hasn't been approved by an attorney with experience in landlord-tenant court.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:22 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


But around here, lawyers are totally the enemy.

Around here, there are some people who are vocal hardasses about their dislike of lawyers. It's a big difference, as much as it may not feel like it if you're the lawyer in the conversation when someone is being all Lawyers Suck GRAR GRAR. That people invested in opposite sides of an ideological conflict make each other feel put upon or unwelcome sucks but it's just that, not some sort of broader Metafilter Is Against Lawyers mission statement that applies to the rest of the folks in attendance.

It seems to get worse if they/we point out that what they/we are trained to do is not something you can pick up through conversation and skimming statutes.

I think a lot of the friction that comes out of discussions like this is due to the difficulty of cleanly separating "what I do is a specialized field that requires a great deal of training and responsibility" from "what you're doing on this web community that you're a member of is bad and wrong and irresponsible". The former's a basically reasonable point, the latter is something that is going to really put people on the defensive. And while I don't think it's usually anyone's intent to kick down the door and start hammering on that latter point, that's a pretty key part of the reaction that stuff of the form "this is a problem and should stop" is likely to produce.

And I don't know that there's any super simple resolution to that. I hear both sides of this stuff, and appreciate both the concerns specialized professionals have about bad advice and the it-is-what-it-is shrugging of people who think of this place as a sort of conversational resource rather than a definitive legal/medical/etc advice dispensary. There's a fundamental conflict there in priorities and expectations maybe, and the best we can do is hope people on either side of that conflict keep the bigger picture in mind and try to just meet in the middle where they can and respectfully let it lie where that's not possible.

Knowing what the actual site policy and guidelines are and have been after many discussions of this sort of thing over the years, it's up to everybody as individuals to decide what they are and aren't comfortable saying on the site, and it's concomitant to that that if one of the things they choose to do is to argue hard to the contrary of that established policy and guidelines status quo there's gonna be other people arguing hard in reaction to that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2010


It seems to get worse if they/we point out that what they/we are trained to do is not something you can pick up through conversation and skimming statutes.

If all the text committed to this thread by the mefi lawyers showed 1/10th the amount of restraint this sentence did then there'd be no argument. As cortex so aptly explains, however, that is not the message the lawyer crowd here has been pushing.

It pretty much moved into farce once we got to claims that trying to be an informed consumer would result in more work by the attorney to disabuse people of incorrect notions and, therefor, higher billing.
posted by phearlez at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2010


Pst. I AM part of the lawyer crowd. And that is what I wrote. Thus the they/we formulation.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:06 PM on September 8, 2010


It goes both ways. Painting all lawyers as money-hungry assholes is no better than painting all consumers as corner-cutting blindly-internet-believing sheeple. Specifically phearlez, you've made your point.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:08 PM on September 8, 2010


Also - as others have noted - we did this exact same thread about six months ago, with most of the players in this thread (including me) making the same arguments as here.

Heh, I loaded that thread and ^F'ed my name and there I was with one comment:

Wow this again, seriously?

I'm pretty sure if you go back a few months, though, to one of the other 5 threads on this subject you'll find me asking the same damn question I asked here with, predictably, no response. Can a lawyer here address that? To sum up my questions:

1. Why is it a problem here for lawyers to give legal advice but not in radio call-in shows?

2. Is there any case law about lawyers (or non-lawyers) giving out advice on internet forums?

3. Are there any laws or statutes governing this specifically, anywhere?


I'll take my answer off the air, thanks.
posted by cj_ at 3:55 AM on September 12, 2010


I don't think it's quite fair to say that there has been no response on those questions. The basic answer is that it is a somewhat unsettled and infrequently-reported-on area, that there are basic principles and ethical rules that might give a lawyer pause about providing advice on an internet forum (but endless disagreement over what constitutes "advice"), and that nobody has yet found an instance of a lawyer getting in trouble for participating in something like AskMe.

So: 1. There probably is not problem; 2. There is very little or no law about the specific issue of internet forums (which is one reason why there is uncertainty on point 1); and 3. There are generalized laws and rules about limits on the practice of law, but none that I am aware of that specifically say anything about participating in an Internet forum where that lawyer was not seeking to profit.

Also - note that the objection some lawyers make to legal questions on AskMe is not that they are illegal or that the lawyers will "get in trouble," but rather that the advice given is usually bad due to limitations in this type of communication. There is also a separate set of concerns around the idea of non-lawyers giving advice that relates to legal topics, which some people say might be illegal "Unlicensed Practice of Law."
posted by Mid at 8:11 PM on September 12, 2010


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