Don't ask me!! June 15, 2008 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Well, I've seen this type of phrase around, and it hit one of my questions. "This sounds like a legal question. You should really ask a lawyer." I think it's legit to ask legal related questions here. One, someone may have had experience with the situation. Two, there may be a friendly lawyer around (hey, I've given free advice for my areas of knowledge). When someone asks a question about what song was being played in this movie or whatnot, wouldn't it be rude or just useless to respond with, "That sounds like a music question. You know who could answer that? A DJ!" People might as well just put "I dunno" or "me too". "IANAL" is one thing, answering to say "don't ask me" is just fluff. Yes? No?
posted by jsmith77 to Etiquette/Policy at 8:23 PM (141 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Please be more specific. Which answers are you talking about?
posted by Dave Faris at 8:33 PM on June 15, 2008


When someone asks a question about what song was being played in this movie or whatnot, wouldn't it be rude or just useless to respond with, "That sounds like a music question. You know who could answer that? A DJ!"

If you think this is a good analogy, you don't understand how the law works.
posted by Dasein at 8:35 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"That sounds like a music question. You know who could answer that? A DJ!"

The comparison will be valid when there are DJSATs.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:37 PM on June 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


IANAL
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2008


This sounds like a question about Metafilter. You should ask a Mefite.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:54 PM on June 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


I totally agree with you by the way.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:55 PM on June 15, 2008


I agree there are too many appeals-to-authority on Ask Metafilter where people respond as if "medicine" and "law", to speak in sweeping terms, are always "correct" and with the even less valid assumption that the person's specific doctor or lawyer will be correct. Both of these are clearly not true. However, the response to talk to a lawyer or doctor is the best for many situations, so the number of responses stating that versus the number of other answers can be useful.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:01 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


hey, I've given free advice for my areas of knowledge

You are clearly not a lawyer, then. Or, if you are, you won't be for long.
posted by dersins at 9:02 PM on June 15, 2008


dersins: How often do you work with lawyers?
posted by mullacc at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2008


There are a few people that say this regularly in AskMe who should probably stop. We'll often delete them if there's no other content to your answer.

Relatedly are "why are you asking a bunch of random strangers on the internet?" or "don't ask a bunch of strangers on the internet?" or "the best you could do was ask random strangers on the internet??" which I think are also noisy non-answers. AskMe is part of a well-rounded information searching strategy. I'd feel weird if it were people's only option, but less weird if it were one of their better options, esp with "this is too embarassing to ask my friends" or "I feel like a goon because I can't get the google to answer this for me" types of things.

It may very well be that the best answer to your question is "you need legal advice" but in many cases the person asking the question may either 1) not know that, or 2) still want non-legal advice to help with the rest of whatever their problem is.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:05 PM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Attorneys can give legal *information* freely - but they can't give legal *advice*. There's a difference. Part of why they won't give legal advice to cover their asses - but that's really a small part. One thing that you learn in law school - even in areas outside your expertise - is how to spot issues... and when someone says "you need a lawyer" what they're really saying is "you need to talk to an attorney who specializes in that subject, in your jurisdiction" they mean it. Don't get mad because the best answer isn't the one you want to hear.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:12 PM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


(wow, that answer was barely in english. I would advise myself to read over answers after editing them. still - you get the jist).
posted by moxiedoll at 9:14 PM on June 15, 2008


I think the problem is that, essentially, people are cheap and are hoping for this magical silver-bullet to solve their problem, when, in reality, it's something that can only be solved by someone with the correct training and knowledge of the law, which contrary to the general perception is a very dynamic beast. Sometimes, then, the hope these people have needs to be extinguished so they do they only sensible thing and seek legal/medical/etc advice.

I think the original poster of this question is remiss not to have mentioned his recent thread which most likely prompted this thread.
posted by oxford blue at 9:16 PM on June 15, 2008


moxiedoll is right. Information, not advice - and preferably, information that steers the asker in the direction of advice.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:29 PM on June 15, 2008


If a MeFite who happens also to be a lawyer advises you in an AskMe answer that you should find a lawyer to answer your question, that probably means that you really, really should find a lawyer, because there is important legal advice you need that cannot be given appropriately in AskMe.

I am not your lawyer.
posted by The World Famous at 9:33 PM on June 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


The only problem is that you have to have a license to practice law in all 50 US states and every country in the EU. It might be a dumb policy, but it's the law.

I severely doubt that any state bar association would bother going after a MeFi armchair lawyer, but the various bar associations have chased down lots of people giving legal advice for money, even if they weren't claiming to actually be lawyers.

That, and the law is often incredibly complex and often varies state-to-state. Even a real lawyer in New York might not be able to tell you about car insurance law in New Jersey (hint: New Jersey has "no fault" insurance, New York does not). Same for wills (California has a relatively unique variant on "community property," most states don't have it at all). These state-to-state differences take many legal questions out of the realm of common experience, even for lawyers.
posted by Leon-arto at 9:36 PM on June 15, 2008


I think the problem is that, essentially, people are cheap...

I agree that people are cheap. They come here looking for a little context about their problem so that they aren't totally head-over-heels confused when they go on the clock with an expensive-ass lawyer.
posted by mullacc at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


The only solution is to get rid of the lawyers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:45 PM on June 15, 2008


I generally don't attempt to answer legal questions because I know that it's a complex system and it is very easy to give bad (but sincere) advice. There have been a couple of questions recently in which the poster, if they had decided to just accept the hive-mind legal advice, could get themselves in some serious legal trouble. I think that's why you see so many people telling you to talk to a lawyer - it's painful to see someone asking really important and technically difficult questions in a public forum.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:46 PM on June 15, 2008


dersins: How often do you work with lawyers?

In my current position? Not often. In previous jobs? On a daily, if not several-times-daily basis. When I need legal advice? Every time.
posted by dersins at 9:47 PM on June 15, 2008


I'd only ask, no scholarships for law students. Any program but law.
posted to MetaTalk by Blazecock Pileon at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite +]

The only solution is to get rid of the lawyers.
posted to MetaTalk by Blazecock Pileon at 2:45 PM on June 16, 2008 [+]


I'm sensing a theme.

Did a bad lawyer touch you blazecock?
posted by oxford blue at 10:02 PM on June 15, 2008


I am a lawyer, in fact, I am YOUR lawyer. In the interest of a speedy resolution to this problem I advise you to remain silent, turn off your computer, and think happy thoughts.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not really a lawyer.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:05 PM on June 15, 2008


dersins: Didn't the lawyers you worked with have a free-of-charge conversation with you before you hired them? Every time I've engaged an attorney, it started out with a conversation where the lawyer gave me some context and framed the issues for me. Otherwise, they would've never won any business.

Someone who isn't an attorney would probably call that "free advice", like razdrez did, even though it clearly hasn't reach the standard of "legal advice."
posted by mullacc at 10:08 PM on June 15, 2008


So, let me get this straight, mullacc. You're actually comparing an AskMe question to a free consultation with a competent professional? I don't know what you do for a living, but I'm glad I'm not your client.
posted by dersins at 10:24 PM on June 15, 2008


*waiting for cortex to add up how many times this issue has come up* IANAWaitress
posted by Cranberry at 10:31 PM on June 15, 2008


dersins: No, I'm just challenging your assertion that a lawyer who gave "free advice" would be out of a job. Clearly that's not the case. This and your overall whole black-and-white approach to legal questions on AskMe just strike me as signs that you don't know what you're talking about.
posted by mullacc at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I know there is a temptation, when one is faced with a legal problem, to rush to AskMe and try to get a feel for [what the solution may be] [how fucked the questioner is] [what cause of action they may have] [etc].

The problem is --- if the questioner is not an attorney --- is that there is often some very very bad advice given, and the people who give this advice are not very forthcoming about their credentials, but present their advice in a very confident, assured manner, potentially misleading the ignorant. For example, here's a thread where MeFite T.D. Strange was advising someone on the likely outcomes of a criminal case, without saying whether he/she is an attorney (even after I asked). I thought T.D. Strange's answer was a really classic example of irresponsible, bullshit, off-the-cuff legal advice from someone who is almost certainly not an attorney, that has no place in AskMe.

I addressed the question of why attorneys don't (or shouldn't) give free advice, in an earlier thread. I'm not entirely satisfied with the way I expressed myself there, but it basically captures my view.
posted by jayder at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2008


It's not that it's a case of being out of the job, per se, but rather there is considerable liability issues that arise from giving legal advice, especially without having a formal client/lawyer relationship. It's just not a terribly smart thing to do.
posted by oxford blue at 10:43 PM on June 15, 2008


Oh for fuck's sake.

razdrez stated in the original post that he's more than happy to have "given free advice for [his] areas of knowledge" on AskMe.

I suggested (in, admittedly, hyperbolic language) that were he a lawyer giving free advice in his "areas of knowledge (i.e. legal advice) on AskMe, he could be subject to professional sanctions.

Do you actually think this is not true? You should read this excellent comment by ND¢, who helpfully breaks down this article to explain exactly why it is dangerous (from a professional standpoint) for attorneys to give legal advice to strangers on the internet.

The only "overall black and white approach to legal questions" that I have is that anyone who thinks it's a good idea to get legal advice from (relatively) anonymous people on the internet deserves exactly what they get.
posted by dersins at 10:51 PM on June 15, 2008


I have come to think that a black-and-white attitude to legal questions on AskMe is the best attitude, and I would be in favor of the admins deleting them immediately. Like I have tried to say before, the questions are most likely to be answered by people who are least qualified to answer them. A smart lawyer knows that it could be problematic to make an off-the-cuff stab at a question, and that one's off-the-cuff stab could actually be a decisive factor in a turn of events. And the smart lawyer is likely not to answer, leaving the question to be answered by a bunch of kooks and cranks. Even a perennial best-answer-getting, paulsc (a nonlawyer, I am pretty sure), is notorious for the bad legal advice he gives in AskMetafilter.

People with legal problems are often in despair, and they are often broke, and it is not wise to make statements upon which they may act rashly.

Unfortunately, Ask Metafilter a forum where there are a lot of articulate people who are perfectly willing to hold forth eloquently and authoritatively upon fields of expertise that they actually don't know the slightest thing about. I am afraid that one day, someone is going to get some really bad advice there, and act on it, either committing suicide, killing someone, losing a fortune, or getting into some really bad scrape that could have been remedied quite easily if they had only consulted a real attorney rather than wading into the morass of conflicting advice that you always see on Ask Metafilter, which a nonlawyer is not equipped to sort into good answers and bad.
posted by jayder at 11:02 PM on June 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


dersins: I don't think it's fair to assume that the phrase "free advice" when used by a layperson means legal advice, which has a specific technical meaning. When you shut someone down by assuming they're seeking legal advice, it just creates frustration and fear of the law and lawyers.

Now, jayder and ND¢ know what they're talking about. I'm not going to comb their AskMe answer history, but I assume they handle themselves just fine in legal AskMe questions. You, on the other hand, post bullshit like this:

LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER.
posted to Ask MeFi by dersins at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2008

That doesn't help anyone understand the problems of seeking legal advice online (or legal information, as is more likely the case).
posted by mullacc at 11:06 PM on June 15, 2008


post bullshit like this

You can call it bullshit, but it was and is the correct answer to the question, which was "Does my friend have grounds for a lawsuit?"

Do you actually think anyone other than a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in that jurisdiction, and practices in that area of law, is qualified to provide a definitive answer to that question?
posted by dersins at 11:11 PM on June 15, 2008


Should we be treating jayder & ND¢'s comments as legal advice?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:12 PM on June 15, 2008


time to lawyer up
posted by caddis at 11:13 PM on June 15, 2008


Oh, and:

"I don't think it's fair to assume that the phrase "free advice" when used by a layperson means legal advice"

So, you don't think someone looking for free advice on legal matters, preferably from a "friendly lawyer," is seeking, y'know, legal advice? Really?
posted by dersins at 11:14 PM on June 15, 2008


Any system of criminal justice or reconciling civil disputes that is beyond the understanding and practice of the common man will become a tool for oppression to a corresponding degree.

America isn't the worst that human history has seen, but it's pretty goddamn awful.
posted by Ryvar at 11:17 PM on June 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


dersins: Why do you think the OP was seeking a definitive answer?

Plenty of people provided helpful information in that thread--mostly that it was important to hang on to whatever evidence was available and to seek a lawyer (perhaps one that focuses on LGBT issues). And the people who gave answers like that managed to do so without treating the OP like an idiot child. Trying to shut them down for having the temerity to ask a legal question is indeed bullshit.
posted by mullacc at 11:20 PM on June 15, 2008


Noise: "You should go and ask a lawyer. This isn't for AskMe!"

Worthwhile: "You should find a lawyer. If you're maintaining a business and planning to spend a large sum on manufacturing these cans of toxic soda, then a lawyer would be a worthwhile investment."

I think the problem emerges when one person gives this advice and then a bunch of people pile-on with their "me too" posts, many of which don't offer an explanation.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 11:22 PM on June 15, 2008


Worthwhile: "You should find a lawyer. If you're maintaining a business and planning to spend a large sum on manufacturing these cans of toxic soda, then a lawyer would be a worthwhile investment."

My all-time-favorite legal question on AskMe was when a guy was planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars to start a business, but said he didn't have money for an attorney, so he came to AskMe to ask his legal questions. That was classic.
posted by jayder at 11:28 PM on June 15, 2008


Why do you think the OP was seeking a definitive answer?

Um, because they asked a yes-or-no question?
posted by dersins at 11:28 PM on June 15, 2008


So, you don't think someone looking for free advice on legal matters, preferably from a "friendly lawyer," is seeking, y'know, legal advice? Really?

I don't think most people realize that there's a difference between legal information and legal advice. They're probably freaked out and just state their question as explicitly as possible. AskMe can help by explaining why it's important to seek a lawyer, or in some cases, pointing the OP in the direction of general information regarding relevant areas of the law (for example, linking to landlord-tenant laws for the OP's jurisdiction).

My problem isn't that lawyers are withholding legal advice in these threads. My problem is that people are acting like assholes.
posted by mullacc at 11:30 PM on June 15, 2008


Um, because they asked a yes-or-no question?

Um, people aren't as simple as that. You're just being an unhelpful asshole.
posted by mullacc at 11:34 PM on June 15, 2008


for example, linking to landlord-tenant laws for the OP's jurisdiction

Oh, like this?
posted by dersins at 11:35 PM on June 15, 2008


Yeah, I was thinking of this comment (where you linked to that FPP) when I typed that. Why can't you answer that way all the time?
posted by mullacc at 11:40 PM on June 15, 2008


I don't think most people realize that there's a difference between legal information and legal advice.

This is precisely why law-related questions have no place on AskMe, as Jayder has very eloquently stated above.

Would it be better if people were nice and not snarky about it it? Maybe. Although I have to say it gets really old to hear the "I can't afford a lawyer" excuse when people are undertaking endeavors that could land them in heaps of liability... what they can't afford to do is not hire a lawyer.

You might not like the way dersins is phrasing the answers, but they're right on the money.

I've seen legal advice on AskMe that is genuinely frightening and the thought that someone in a bad situation might read it, identify with it, and decide (for whatever reason) to follow that advice is exactly why questions asking explicitly for legal advice just have no place on AskMe.

Of course, any system that allowed legal information but squelched legal advice (and requests for the same) would require an admin that really understood where the line was... and it's not always a very clear line.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:58 PM on June 15, 2008


I ran out of popcorn.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:09 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


You should probably just stab someone.

I Am Not A Lawyer.
posted by Artw at 12:16 AM on June 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


In the area of expertise of a DJ, no one asks questions about life-changing issues. Getting the wrong answer is unlikely to result in catastrophe.

When it comes to law or medicine, getting the wrong advice can lead to economic ruin, prison time, death, or permanent handicap.
posted by Class Goat at 12:21 AM on June 16, 2008


In the area of expertise of a DJ, no one asks questions about life-changing issues. Getting the wrong answer is unlikely to result in catastrophe.

Are you kidding? Do you know how much a good record needle costs?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:23 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dancefloor patron: "Hey mister DJ!! Play that song again!"

DJ: "Repeating a song on the dancefloor could lead to legal action on the part of the record company and the song's publisher. I suggest you ask a lawyer about the viability and potential legal consequences of such action!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:35 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"By breaking this seal, you accept full responsibilty for any consequential action resulting from the product's use, as playing the music contained within these recordings may be interpreted as opposition to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 AM on June 16, 2008


I agree that for more serious situations, such as people accused of a crime, or people in situations where thousands of dollars or more are at stake, getting real paid-for advice from an attorney is essential, and I think providing legal information in such cases is counterproductive.

On the other hand, there are more minor disputes where the cost of a lawyer could easily be more than what you stand to lose by not having one. In these cases, I think it is helpful for the individual to be able to get information from people who might already know a bit more about the situation. Of course, they will get bad information as well as good, and have to use their critical thinking skills to distinguish the two.

There are potentially legal implications for anything you do. It is good that laypeople get information in the law for two reasons. First, you can't ask a lawyer for advice before every action in your life, business, etc. Secondly, as citizens in democratic societies, we cannot influence the direction of the law if we do not understand it. That doesn't mean that it's good to give legal advice on the Internet about someone's divorce or impending felony charge, but it does mean that it's good for nonlawyers to be able to discuss the law sometimes.
posted by grouse at 1:10 AM on June 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


You should probably just stab someone.

I'm a mobbed-up lawyer. For a hefty fee, I can arrange someone to perform this service for you.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:10 AM on June 16, 2008


When it comes to law or medicine, getting the wrong advice can lead to economic ruin, prison time, death, or permanent handicap.

Except perhaps for computing questions, many subjects discussed on Ask Metafilter can lead to these horrifying ends for lack of information or simple twist of bad fate, let alone the plethora of bad advice that can make it into AskMe. Doctors and, especially, lawyers are not special snowflakes in this regard.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


dear AskMe, I suspect there's a rat living in my company's server room. I propose to flush it out by flooding the room with water from the firehose. Is this a good idea? Do I need to turn the power off first?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:59 AM on June 16, 2008


UbuRoivas: LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER.
posted by grouse at 2:07 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


many subjects discussed on Ask Metafilter can lead to these horrifying ends

Personally, I'd rather listen to the unqualified legal advice on Ask Metafilter, than I would to the unqualified relationship advice that you get there. Even reading the advice aimed at other people's relationship problems makes me want to slip a noose around my neck.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:59 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


suicidal ideation in response to relationshipfilter is by no means a normal reaction. have you considered getting therapy for this? or going on antidepressants? you don't have to suffer alone.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 AM on June 16, 2008


Personally, I'd rather listen to the unqualified legal advice on Ask Metafilter, than I would to the unqualified relationship advice that you get there.

You still miss her, don't you? It's ok, we've all been there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:24 AM on June 16, 2008


a prenup would've saved him all the heartache, if only he'd known how best to broach the subject.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"... Even a perennial best-answer-getting, paulsc (a nonlawyer, I am pretty sure), is notorious for the bad legal advice he gives in AskMetafilter. ..."
posted by jayder at 2:02 AM on June 16

I don't recall giving legal advice in AskMe, much less being "notorious" for it, and I'm mildly miffed anybody would mistake me for a lawyer, under any circumstances, particularly as I describe myself in my user profile as an interpretive dance critic. I've employed enough lawyers, in enough jurisdictions, to know that lawyers are pretty fallible, and that for the right money, on the same set of facts, you can routinely get attorneys to hold diametrically opposed professional positions, at least until a judge sorts the matter out.

"My all-time-favorite legal question on AskMe was when a guy was planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars to start a business, but said he didn't have money for an attorney, so he came to AskMe to ask his legal questions. That was classic."
posted by jayder at 2:28 AM on June 16

And my all time favorite legal question on AskMe was when a lawyer showed up on AskMe, asking for advice about the practice of law.
posted by paulsc at 6:06 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


particularly as I describe myself in my user profile as an interpretive dance critic.

But you're not my interpretive dance critic, so I'm going to have a lawyer about your interpretation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:17 AM on June 16, 2008


...going to ask a lawyer...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:33 AM on June 16, 2008


This is precisely why law-related questions have no place on AskMe, as Jayder has very eloquently stated above.

Nonsense. Following are law-related questions that are perfect for AskMe:

I was in the courthouse yesterday paying my property taxes and overheard some lawyers talking about how someone didn't have a menses ray. WTF? Is this related to women getting off because they're PMSing?

I don't understand Kyllo. Can someone explain this to me?

Why is there a rule against perpetuities, and who polices perpetuities?

What's the difference between community property and equitable distribution, in practice? Do they really end up with different divisions of property?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:58 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


"... I'm going to have a lawyer about your interpretation."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:17 AM on June 16

As long it's not my lawyer you're having asking.

Funny story. Once, I entered into a shareholder agreement for a sub-chapter "S" corporation, which agreement was composed by an old line Boston firm, and which, we were verbally assured, was "air tight." And really, at 76 pages, we poor shareholders couldn't imagine any contingency that it wouldn't cover, particularly for so prosaic an endeavor as a small industrial machinery business. Nevertheless, 13 months later, 2 minority shareholders (of whom I was one) had developed significant issues with the company, and the majority shareholders employed the same counsel as had drafted the partnership agreement, to draft a dissolution agreement that tried to set aside the partnership agreement. We minority shareholders had the entertaining exercise of hiring other old line Boston firms to critique the partnership agreement, on alternative basis, and propose other settlements. Just for grins, we asked, as wide eyed innocents, our former corporate attorneys (the ones we'd paid, through our share interests to draft the initial shareholder agreement, and the alternate dissolution agreement) for referrals to other firms, when it was clear the matter might go to trial. They recommended a good man to me, who, unfortunately, was in end stage pancreatic cancer. The other minority shareholder's referral was to an esteemed member of the bar, with lots of corporate experience, who had equally devastating recent personal problems.

We demurred on those referrals, and found our own advocates.

Initial negotiations failed, the matter went to civil court, discovery began, yada yada... The discovery process was hilarious, but you probably had to have been there. The majority shareholders eventually settled with us, just to have done with the whole mess. Since that proceeding, I've always thought that every courthouse ought to be decorated not with the sword and scales borne by Lady Justice, but by the comedy/drama masks.
posted by paulsc at 7:13 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


My favourite type of legal AskMe question is the one where the asker gives intensely detailed information about a problem but then forgets to mention where this problem is occurring.

Anyway, anyone who gives actual legal advice (that is, legal advice directed at your specific situation and indicating which course of action you should take, rather than general information or anecdote which is clearly not intended as advice or, on preview, academic discussion along the lines of ROU_Xenophobe's examples) in a forum like this is either:

(a) not a lawyer and therefore someone you shouldn't be taking legal advice from; or

(b) a bad lawyer who you shouldn't be listening to either, as they will give you advice of the calibre of "yes, of course it's okay to give free professional advice over the Internet to people you have never met and whose situations you don't really understand but who could probably track you down for a professional negligence lawsuit if they really needed to". Because that is the kind of level of advice they are apparently giving themselves.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:22 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Perhaps we could restate the proposition thusly: "aside from general questions about the law (such as its doctrinal features, practical application, trends and developments, history and context) specific questions (of the genre that could reasonably only be answered by a competent legal practitioner who has a fuller grasp of the context and circumstances of the question) have no place on AskMe.

Or to put it another way,

Legal Questions Act 2008 (Meta)

1. Long title

An Act to amend the law on asking legal question on askmetafilter

2. Interpretation

(1) In this Act, except to the extent that the context or subject-matter otherwise indicates or requires:
"question" means a statement of an interrogative bent, having a desire to elicit a response
"askmetafilter" the site herein considered, and therein visited, and thereupon time spent
"legal" means having a principal relationship to a certain system of common law and statue; namely, the having a relationship to the law
"general question" means any question with a basis that is not specific in nature, and is instead, inter alia, based on the law and its doctrinal features, practical application, trends and developments, history and context
"specific question" means any question that requires a considered response of a trained legal practitioner, owing to the acknowledge complexities and need for greater context and a fuller knowledge of the circumstances which led to the asking of the relevant question. As distinct from what a reasonable person would consider a general question.

3. Application to questions:

This act applies to all

(a) questions using the following tags: "law" "legal"
(b) absent a proscribed tag as per s3 (a) if a reasonable person would construe the term as legal, or related to the law, in nature and it will therefore be considered to be a legal question

4. Legal questions.

(a) All specific legal questions are banned, and shall not be asked.
(I) Anyone posting a specific legal question shall be guilty of an offence provided that;
(i) They had done so knowing the prohibtion on specific questions
(ii) They have posted an actual specific legal question
(iii) It was not a mistake, or an error of judgement
(b) All general legal questions shall be permitted, contingent on their generality being approved of by the community at large.
(c) Any legal question that reasonable elicits an answer of, e.g. "seek legal counsel", shall be considered to be a specific legal question and shall be deleted immediately.

5. Failure to comply

Those guilty of an offence under s4(a) shall be punished by transportation to the colonies OR summary deletion of the question, at the undebatable discretion of the administrators.
posted by oxford blue at 7:44 AM on June 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Dear AskMe, I need legal advice:

Every time I stab a lawyer, I chip the tip of my knife. Are legal professionals made of harder material than the average person? And what kind of blade should I use to minimize problems like this.

I tried asking a lawyer about this, but he's bleeding and unwilling to talk to me.

Help!
posted by quin at 8:09 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's clearly a specific legal question; say hello to the kangaroos for me!
posted by oxford blue at 8:15 AM on June 16, 2008


In the area of expertise of a DJ, no one asks questions about life-changing issues.

I beg to differ. Last night a DJ saved my life.
posted by Leon-arto at 9:12 AM on June 16, 2008


People hate lawyers (and doctors). Is it any shock that they don't want to go see one?

I just want to see a question that says "I went to see a lawyer who advertised on TV, once he found out there wasn't a chance of a big settlement, he didn't want to take the case... now can the internet help me?"
posted by smackfu at 9:15 AM on June 16, 2008


LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER LAWYER.

My brain keeps wanting keep to parse this like Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
posted by amyms at 9:46 AM on June 16, 2008


Dear AskMe: If police-police police police, who police police-police?
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:50 AM on June 16, 2008


A DJ can't get sued or disbarred for giving bad music advice. When a DJ gives music advice, they do not by default enter into a confidentiality agreement with the person seeking advice. Music advice is relatively inconsequential. When a lay person gives music advice, if they happen to be mistaken because they really know very little about music, little harm will come from it. Nobody is going to assume someone is a DJ just because they give music advice.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2008


You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special music. Acapulco shirts.
posted by signal at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't recall giving legal advice in AskMe, much less being "notorious" for it ...

paulsc, this comment and this comment, where you are interpreting statutes and giving advice on the legal consequences of adultery, were what I had in mind.
posted by jayder at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2008


"paulsc, this comment and this comment, where you are interpreting statutes and giving advice on the legal consequences of adultery, were what I had in mind."
posted by jayder at 4:15 PM on June 16

Oh, you mean, in the first case, where my first sentence reads "Regarding the whole issue of society having a general covenant with married people to assist them in the maintenance of the marriage, I think [emphasis added] there are many jurisdictions where elements of such a covenant are enshrined in law, particularly where issues of adultery are involved." and the second one, where I guess the paragraph that gets your goat starts off "S'pose [emphasis added] the little wife isn't that resolute..."

Personal opinion, in the first case. Hypothetical, in the second. "Legal advice" in neither.

You're really reaching to make a point, if, in more than 2,700 of my AskMe comments, this is the best you've got, jayder. In my opinion, you're even grinding some personal axe with me, and not making a compelling case, at all, against AskMe being a reasonable place for people to discuss such matters.
posted by paulsc at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2008


I am a DJ. One segment of the DJ SAT is administered and taken the first time you step up to the decks in front of at least 100 people (if not a 1000) for a prime-time slot. Not first, not last, but somewhere in the middle. You will be graded on how many people leave or join the dancefloor during your set. Yes, that gnawing pit of all-consuming fear is normal - but try to control the shaking of your hands as this will directly effect your performance and hamper your ability to drop needles without scratching the hell out of your records.

Depending on the party, your choice in music and your skills this can also be threatening to both the life and limb of the DJ. In some underground circles it's perfectly acceptable to force a shitty DJ off the decks at gunpoint.

There are, after all, lives being saved on that dancefloor. This is serious business.

If your medium of choice is "iPod playlist" you're probably not ready to take the DJ SATs. You should be able to reliably beatmatch and mix with vinyl records, CDs, tapes, reel-to-reel tapes as well as digital DJ solutions including Serrato, Final Scratch, Traktor and Ableton Live. Scratching, transformations or beatslicing are optional skills - and rarely used in real-world DJing outside of the studio or turntablist battles.

However, major portions of your score are also determined by the following skills: Your ability to life 150 pound speaker cabinets into a back of a truck without the aid of a ramp or hoist. Your ability to debug and troubleshoot signal-path issues, including party-killing ground loop hums - even if it means you have to hang upside down from the overhead lighting grid like a monkey during the party to run an extension cord from the mixer to the back of the club where the amp racks are so they share a common electrical ground. Your ability to not bitch when bumped from your slot will also be judged. Your ability to keep your cool and successfully blow off the drunken idiot shirtless fratboy who keeps requesting that "you play something good, like Matchbox 20 or Nickleback, or something he can sing to". Bonus points are awarded if you can find a track that bumps the dancefloor *and* sends said fratboy fleeing from the room, thus sparing the party of his drunken, offkey caterwauling that almost invariably ends in him becoming morose or possibly violent as he steeps in agony of his last failed relationship through the magic of cheap booze and song.

Please note that you may master these skills and may still not be an "actual" DJ. A modern DJ is someone that is a mix of technician, musician, selectah and sometimes even toaster. You will be expected to have an in depth knowledge of thousands of different club-music subgenre, including about a hundred different kinds of house. You will be expected to know how to splice and solder, to cut tape, to master, engineer, and edit multitrack recordings and much more.

And yet "real" musicians and audio technicians still will think you're "just a DJ", even if your knowledge of the history, science and psychology of music and technology surpass both of them combined.

And depending on the club or party you may be forced to do all of the above while under the influence of strong drink or drugs.

You will have graduated DJ school only when you can command over $1000 for a few hours of DJing while still playing the music you want to play while still drawing huge crowds to the dance floor - but you'll still play underground parties or radio shows for free, because you still know that's where it's at.

Thus, there are very few postgraduate DJs.

posted by loquacious at 2:24 PM on June 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


loquacious, I tried to follow your advice and fell from the ceiling. Expect a mean letter from someone who is not my lawyer.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:33 PM on June 16, 2008


Thus, there are very few postgraduate DJs.

Yes, the D.DJ course has the highest number of dropouts of all postgrad programs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


All this lawyer talk forces me to ask: have any of you ever thought about NOT BEING CRIMINALS???!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2008


I wasn't aware that was an option.

*considers*

*rejects*
posted by quin at 3:37 PM on June 16, 2008


I have thought about reorganizing the politico-economico-infotainment strata that make up the criminal-non-criminal spectrum so that I fall on the proper side of it. But I'd rather just ignore the entire criminal justice system entirely and move further and further north.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:22 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's not an option. One of the wonders of our modern society is that everyone is a criminal. Some are just more likely to have their crimes overlooked or keep under the radar. For example, at the federal level, there are 50 titles to the US Code. Do you know all the rules contained therein? Even if we restrict ourself to what's explicitly called "Crimes," there are (by my quick count, may be off by a few since they skip numbers) 90 Chapters in that part. Not 90 crimes, 90 chapters, but can you even name 90 federal crimes? When you buy something on Amazon do you report your purchase to the state for proper taxation?

The best you can do is attempt to live a moral life, keep under the radar, and avoid the crimes that seem likely to bring the man down on you.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:28 PM on June 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was just accosted by a madwoman out the front of my building, who purported to have PROOF of GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION! She brandished papers at me and said that the EX-PREMIER had a MISTRESS and she's going to get her MILLION DOLLARS. I told her to "rock on". Does this make me an accomplice after the fact?
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:44 PM on June 16, 2008


When a DJ gives music advice, they do not by default enter into a confidentiality agreement with the person seeking advice.

Oh shit.
posted by stevis23 at 5:55 PM on June 16, 2008


I told her to "rock on". Does this make me an accomplice after the fact?

Does "rock on" mean "keep smokin that crack!" where you live?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:05 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does this make me an accomplice after the fact?

I would like someone to follow me around for a weekend and keep track of every law I break and then go track down the town constable and try to get him to arrest me for some of them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:06 PM on June 16, 2008


I would like someone to follow me around for a weekend and keep track of every law I break

I'm picturing you as an unrepentant jaywalker, jessamyn.
posted by amyms at 6:46 PM on June 16, 2008


jessamyn - can you please schedule your project for a weekend that doesn't coincide with our annual metafilter kiddyporn online swap meet?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2008


All this lawyer talk forces me to ask: have any of you ever thought about NOT BEING CRIMINALS???!
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:30 AM on June 17 [+] [!]

Yes, but the law just isn't criminal/noncriminal. There's you know, civil law, and such forth. It's like saying the internet is only for porn, just because that appears to be its only use.
posted by oxford blue at 7:07 PM on June 16, 2008


I'd rather just ignore the entire criminal justice system entirely and move further and further north.

Welcome to Canada, cousin.
posted by timeistight at 7:16 PM on June 16, 2008


Does "rock on" mean "keep smokin that crack!" where you live?

Hey, you Jason? You Jason?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:48 PM on June 16, 2008


They call me The Dragon.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:21 PM on June 16, 2008


I cannot believe I read this whole thread. What I did learn is that you folks are passionate about lawyers. Some for and some against. That is exactly what keeps them in business.

As for breaking laws daily, I can relate a lawyer story. My uncle was a small town judge. One day a local policeman had to come to his house to get a signature on a warrant. My cousin's son, aged 6 at the time ran to the door when he heard the bell. He saw the policeman in his hall. In front of the officer he turns to my cousin and says, "Dad, are they here to arrest you for all the speeding you do?" THe officer, with a smile on his face replied, "No, I am here on other police matters." Then the little boy said, "I bet you get a gold star from your boss if you arrest a criminal. My Dad says that certain signs are optional. Arrest him." THe officer then, in an effort to bail himself and my cousin out, asked, "Did you brush you teeth this morning?" "No" "well then I'll make a deal. I won't arrest you for not listening to your parents and not brushing your teeth if I don't have to arrest your Dad." "Ok, but not brushing is not against the law." "Son, in this house, your Dad IS the law!"
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


My question was asking if "This is a legal question-ask a lawyer" is noise or helpful. I still think it's noise. A subplot to this turned out to be, are legal questions valid?

It seems that lawyers should not give "legal advice", to use the now technical term, just to cover their own asses. Fine. And the bit about the music question/DJ--I picked something harmless and inane to try and make a point. I think it didn't.

So maybe "legal advice" was the wrong words to use. Legal information is probably more to what I was thinking of. Similar cases in the past would be interesting to hear about. Personal experience from non-lawyers would as well. Pointing someone to the type of lawyer to seek out would be non-noise.

But a snarky, patronizing, "don't you know that legal advice is what lawyers do????" does nothing. It doesn't protect the asker in any special way just because there is a legal question being asked.

I agree with others here that law and medicine aren't the only things that could cause harm. Giving someone bad computer advice ("that virus scan is probably a false positive") could result in lost years of work. Giving someone bad auto advice ("I've found my best mpg with using slick tires") could cost more money than a small claims could, or even a life. If you feel that legal questions should be banned because of the risk of harm, then many, if not most, questions should be banned because of the risk of harm. And if you feel that way, then why are you even on mefi?
posted by jsmith77 at 9:11 PM on June 16, 2008


And if you feel that way, then why are you even on mefi?

Recumbant bicycles. Steampunk recumbant bicycles.

ALSO THE FISH IN MY PANTS COMPELLS ME WITH BITING
posted by loquacious at 9:57 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


nebulawindphone, clearly Police-police Police-police police police Police-police and police Police-police police.
posted by nicwolff at 10:40 PM on June 16, 2008


THE FISH IN MY PANTS COMPELLS ME WITH BITING

you mean like this?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:11 PM on June 16, 2008


Is there a comedian in the house who can tell me if this thread is funny?
I feel a need to laugh, but I wish to do so on the basis of some authority.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:00 AM on June 17, 2008


I like my law license. I paid a shitload for it. It keeps food on the table and a steady supply of guitar-related products heading to my home. If I lost it, those would cease.

My job is a bit different than yours. When you hire me, I am an expert and pretty much know more about your situation than you do. You totally depend on me to get things right.

That's why the bar has very strict rules about who is and who is not a client and heavy penalties for those who take actions not in the interests of their clients.

Those rules make it very important that lawyers not get into situations where they might be considered to have an attorney-client relationship with someone. Perhaps the people who think that common sense should rule are right 99% of the time. However, if I get sued or a bar complaint, that result isn't made clear until I've spent thousands of dollars on my own lawyer to defend me. I don't get that money back.

Furthermore, if you know the law, you know that legal questions are almost never, ever easily answered after reading a short question. One cannot simply put the answer into a single paragraph. There are at least 53 U.S. jurisdictions in which a lawyer may practice. The rules are different in many of them. The general facts given in the questions aren't enough to answer 99% of legal questions. If I had a dollar for every time a client chimed in with a material fact that he or she forgot to provide me with at the beginning of the case, I would have . . .more dollars than I have now. So I cringe every time I see people answering a question that omits gigantic chunks of material facts.

The other problem is that people think that they can just answer questions because of their common-sense knowledge of the things around them. They most often cannot. I'm stunned the number of times I see totally erroneous advice being given out on the AskMe threads. These people have not even looked up the actual law on the subject!!!!!!!!!! How could they even begin to answer the question without referring to the actual law on the subject? It is fucking insane.

Would you trust a stranger you never met to take your appendix out? No. So why do you trust the legal advice given on this site? Because the stakes are quite often the same and should be treated as such.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:05 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, there are more minor disputes where the cost of a lawyer could easily be more than what you stand to lose by not having one. In these cases, I think it is helpful for the individual to be able to get information from people who might already know a bit more about the situation. Of course, they will get bad information as well as good, and have to use their critical thinking skills to distinguish the two.

Spoken like a non-lawyer.

How do you know how "minor" the dispute is? And if you aren't trained, no amount of "critical thinking skills" will help distinguish the advice.

The main thing is that in my business, in a civil situaiton, if a lawyer convinces a judge that his client is right, that laywer is able to obtain the armed power of the state to advance the client's interests. That means that if a person refuses to pay the client the money the court decides he or she is owed, the lawyer can get the court to order sheriff's deputies to go to the house, seize it, evict the person, their family and their children and leave them on the street merely to pay for the damages you caused the client. This is something that happens every day in the U.S. and England.

That ain't fucking around. So people should get smart and not take legal advice on specific situations on the internet.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:23 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


How do you know how "minor" the dispute is?

Sometimes some common sense is warranted. Yes, I know, we're talking about the law, and that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with common sense, but it's not really cost-effective for people to consult a lawyer when they want to do things like terminate their mobile phone contract, or get Dell to fix their broken laptop, or try to get their landlord to return the $100 they withheld from your property deposit.

Let alone smaller things such as signing a contract for home internet access, deciding whether it is legal to make a right turn on a red traffic signal in a certain locality, how to effectively deal with your noisy neighbors.

You can probably come up with a doomsday scenario for how following the wrong course in any of these scenarios will result in you losing your house and ending up in jail, but to be honest, you could construct those scenarios for anything, and it's not really very helpful unless it's a situation where it's even possibly a likely outcome.
posted by grouse at 1:12 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


But a snarky, patronizing, "don't you know that legal advice is what lawyers do????" does nothing. It doesn't protect the asker in any special way just because there is a legal question being asked.

Perhaps not, but hopefully it would serve to remind them that they are asking a question for which they will have absolutely no idea how to recognize the correct answer. That's why people go to lawyers...because the law is so damn tricky that it's impossible to guess which answer is right.

It only sounds patronizing because the poster should know better and it's obvious they do not.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:20 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is there a comedian in the house who can tell me if this thread is funny?

IANAC, and especially IANYC, but no, it is not. Not even this comment.
posted by davejay at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2008


but it's not really cost-effective for people to consult a lawyer when they want to do things like terminate their mobile phone contract, or get Dell to fix their broken laptop, or try to get their landlord to return the $100 they withheld from your property deposit.

The problem isn't so much that laypeople can't figure out the law. The problem is that these questions you pose actually take HOURS to answer. The idiots who tell you what the answer is in three sentences are WRONG.

Furthermore, being a layperson, knowing the law isn't likely to help you in those situations anyway, because the phone company damn well knows you aren't going to sue. Waiving the law in their face won't get you what you are looking for. It is the real, actual threat of a suit that does that.

Can someone sue that pro se and win? Certainly. You don't even have to be smart. Many lawyers aren't. But you do have to do hours of the backbreaking work. That's not what these questioners are looking for, however. These people are looking for a magic wand that will make the question solvable and easy. Rarely is that the case.

The fact is, it is cost-effective to consult a lawyer to terminate a mobile phone contract or to fight over an apartment deposit. Why? Because in the real world, it is really not cost-effective for you to fight over the $300 you feel it is terribly unfair for you to pay. So if you are going to stupidly battle for months over $300, you might as well save yourself half that effort and hire a lawyer. If you do it yourself, you will have to do the same work the lawyer does but it will take you twice as long. In the end, your $300 isn't worth those hours of work, just as the $2,000 you'd pay a lawyer to do the job isn't worth it. Because it is going to take you hours to review the actual contract, the laws of the state that you are in, and combine them into an actual answer.

The problem is twofold (1) people expect that they are going to get a magic wand waved as a result of the legal AskMe question, and (2) people with no actual understanding of the law purport to have that wand at the ready. They don't. They are giving terrible, terrible advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:50 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


but it's not really cost-effective for people to consult a lawyer when they want to do things like terminate their mobile phone contract, or get Dell to fix their broken laptop, or try to get their landlord to return the $100 they withheld from your property deposit

Possibly true in these hypotheticals dealing with small dollar amounts and petty grievances. However, in the actual question that led to this call-out, the asker was posing a very serious question about potential product liability regarding an item he was looking to bring to market. There is simply no way a layperson could answer that question with any authority. Telling him to consult a lawyer was the only reasonable answer to his question.
posted by The Gooch at 3:08 PM on June 17, 2008


Using, in part, information from Ask Metafilter threads, I successfully extracted $1500 of security deposit from my scumbag landlords with maybe a couple hours of work.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2008


An example--in a hypothetical cell contract a questioner gets a somewhat useful answer and goes to small-claims court. Can he win?

Well, imagine it turns out that unbeknownst to the answerer, the cell contract in question requires that the parties sue only in NY courts or get an arbitrator(both are very common). The three-sentence answer provided is useless. You have to read that four-page contract to actually get the answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:10 PM on June 17, 2008


The three-sentence answer provided is useless.

"It is impossible to answer this without knowing the details of your contract. For example, the cell contract in question might require that the parties sue only in NY courts or get an arbitrator (both are very common). You have to read that four-page contract to actually get the answer."
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:50 PM on June 17, 2008


So what's wrong with just saying that? "Many cell contracts require parties sue in NY or get an arbitrator. Make sure you read the contract carefully before taking next steps." It's better than just telling them to STFU and doesn't seem like the kind of advice that could be misinterpreted.
posted by mullacc at 4:53 PM on June 17, 2008


This thread is basically full of laypersons trying to convince everyone else that it should be perfectly kosher to ask for, and receive, legal advice over the internet. This is not surprising. Equally unsurprising is the lack of folks with actual legal training showing up to back them up. There's a reason for this.

So what's wrong with just saying that? "Many cell contracts require parties sue in NY or get an arbitrator. Make sure you read the contract carefully before taking next steps." It's better than just telling them to STFU and doesn't seem like the kind of advice that could be misinterpreted.

"Doesn't seem like the kind of advice that can be misinterpreted" is a far cry from "Cannot be misinterpreted" and even "Will not be misinterpreted."

There are quite a few things wrong with the answer. Choice of jurisdiction clauses are far from the only concern when analyzing the obligations of two parties in a contract. Pointing that one out, to the exclusion of others, could easily give a false sense of security to the OP. "Oh, well, I don't see a clause like that in here, I bet I'm good to go."

Does that make sense? Maybe not, but neither does asking random strangers on the internet for legal advice, so we're not exactly dealing with paragons of common sense here to start with. And even if we are, AskMe is not a walled garden. The next person to come in off the street might have even less common sense and that is as much a concern to a practicing lawyer as is the OP.

So what can the helpful attorney do? Add a few more caveats, plus a "there could be other issues, you'll have to read the contract" disclaimer? Where does that end? At what point is that functionally the same as saying "You need a lawyer?" Is there any contract that can be analyzed without reading it? (Hint: No) At what point are you really asking for volunteers to write a treatise on cell phone contract law?

A key component to legal advice is communication. Not this one-way, fire-and-forget type that we typically have on AskMe, but genuine conversation. Story-telling, questions, answers, exploration, and discussion. To pretend like it's so simple that a two paragraph question can be answered succinctly, accurately, and helpfully in a comment is typically foolish. In law school, two paragraph fact patterns can yield tens of thousands of words in response and still fall woefully short of completeness.

The bottom line is that there's a great deal of risk involved here for both the asker, future question readers, and the answerer -- nobody expects a medical diagnosis from "My hand hurts, what's wrong?" But they ask for the functional equivalent when it comes to the law.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:06 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does that make sense?

No, it doesn't. It may be right, but it doesn't make sense.
posted by mullacc at 6:55 PM on June 17, 2008


There's a reason for this.

Lawyers have created a system that ensures their continued employment?

I've learned two things from this thread: 1) I'm wrong about this topic and 2) lawyers are worse than I thought. Seriously, you should feel bad about this.
posted by mullacc at 7:04 PM on June 17, 2008


In law school, two paragraph fact patterns can yield tens of thousands of words in response and still fall woefully short of completeness.

Yes, there's a reason for that. They're typically written like this:

Jane was born on an Alitalia flight from NY to Andorra, to a stateless mother travelling on a temporary UN refugee travel ID. Due to complications in delivery, Jane's mother was assisted by a man claiming to be a qualified health professional from Paris, who said "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. If you have any problems, you can always count on me to set things right!" Unfortunately, Jane's mother died in delivery due to bloodloss, partially due to the fact that one of the stewards had been forced by blackmailers into stealing & selling aircraft first aid kits on the black market, on threat of revealing certain personal facts about him.

Not knowing what to do with the baby, the steward handed her to an orphanage run by a church charity in Andorra. At age 14, she was expelled from the orphanage after photos purporting to be of her in lesbian sex acts were posted on an internet discussion board hosted on behalf of a Russian crime syndicate on a server in the Cayman islands. She has since read a study claiming that lesbianism can be caused by complications in birth at altitude.

Advise her on possible legal courses of action.

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:17 PM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know, I was holding this back for a while, but I'll come out and say it: LOLRENTSEEKING
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:27 PM on June 17, 2008


I recognize that certain things make legal and medical questions distinct (the lawyer-client relationship and related possible penalties). And if there are reasons for banning legal questions that relate to those two distinctions, it might make sense.

But this thread is entering more mundane territory. Complex questions that require back-and-forth interaction to discover the important facts, where misleading answers get provided by people lacking the necessary knowledge, which could have a large impact on people's lives, are hardly unique. All professionals have probably run across these in their area of expertise -- I've seen a few for land use planning. All relationship questions also probably qualify. Banning legal questions for any of these more common flaws doesn't make sense.
posted by salvia at 10:06 PM on June 17, 2008


lawyers are worse than I thought. Seriously, you should feel bad about this.

Ok, maybe it'd help to think about it in terms of the passionate defense of the specificity of DJ skills. Ready? Ok - imagine someone posts a DJ question (about the right track for a particular gig, say) for all the DJs on metafilter. Now imagine that the answer depends on:

- how much you're getting paid for the gig
- whether you've booked it orally, or in writing
- how much experience you have
- whether you've worked with that club before
- whether the show was advertised, and to who, and how, and where the fliers were distributed, and whether your name is on the flier and....
- also, the right song is completely different depending on what state you're in. The right song in one state will get you laughed out of town in another. In one state you become famous - in another you'd have to pay ten fines.
- and even if the answering DJ is in your state, s/he'd give different advice depending on whether it's a district club, or a superior club. shit, you might be playing in a FEDERAL club.
- but you don't know which kind of club it is, because that determination is based on ALL of the other questions that you didn't know to answer in your post.

AND - if you're some kind of nut and not a DJ or otherwise got something wrong in the question or left out important information? a wrong answer could get the answerer dis-DJ'd.

When people say 'you need a lawyer', they aren't being dicks. Sometimes it's the answer because that is the answer.

posted by moxiedoll at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2008


"also, the right song is completely different depending on what state you're in."

you can say that again!
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:31 PM on June 17, 2008


THE RIGHT SONG IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DEPENDING ON WHAT STATE YOU'RE IN!
posted by moxiedoll at 10:33 PM on June 17, 2008


THANKS, BECOZ I DIDN'T KNOW IF I HEARD YOU RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!!!
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:08 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


As an aside, after all this I noticed that my answer to the question that led to this callout has been deleted. Interesting. Now there are no suggestions in that thread that the questioner speak to a lawyer about the potential product liability issues. That may give the questioner a sense of satisfaction ("Ha! I got them to delete that answer I didn't like!"), but it makes the question much less useful to anyone who may stumble across it in the future.

If, as Jessamyn says upthread, there really is a policy of systematically deleting suggestions that people consult an attorney on complex legal issues, that's a really terrible policy, and should probably be re-thought.
posted by dersins at 4:22 AM on June 18, 2008


dersins, that policy must surely be based on sound legal advice. let it be.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:17 AM on June 18, 2008


When I find myself in times of trouble, UbuRoivas comes to me, speaking words of wisdom...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:44 AM on June 18, 2008


dersins, if you want to tell people to consult a lawyer without being smarmy about it, feel free. Wisecracks about lawyers get removed the same way that other wisecracks do. Your answer started like so...

"That sounds like a legal question, razdrez. You know who are really good at answering legal questions? Lawyers!"

Now I'd prefer if people asking legal/medical questions would at least mention their status vis a vis getting professional help [i.e. my doctor's appointment is next Wednesday] but sometimes they don't and we muddle through.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:58 AM on June 18, 2008


Your answer started like so

And how did it continue? And was any single word of it untrue or inaccurate? No. But that's not my point. I could frankly give a fuck whether my answer was deleted (in fact, I'm much more upset that my comment with kibo's .sig got deleted from the USENET thread, and after all it's just a fucking internet comment); my point is that it is bad policy to delete answers as a matter of course just because those answers suggest that people with legal questions consult an attorney.
posted by dersins at 6:15 AM on June 18, 2008


my point is that it is bad policy to delete answers as a matter of course just because those answers suggest that people with legal questions consult an attorney.

We don't do that. Snarky or content-free answers get removed like they always have. One-word answers that just say stuff like "doctor" also fall into the non-helpful realm.

What I was referring to is a few posters (not you) who regularly pop into every medical/legal thread with the same answer "don't ask metafilter, consult a professional" which becomes its own sort of noise over time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:36 AM on June 18, 2008


Yes, there's a reason for that. They're typically written like this . . . (awesome high-altitude lesbian nun hypothetical omitted)

UbuRoivas' law school was a lot more fun than mine.
posted by The Bellman at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2008


Yes, there's a reason for that. They're typically written like this

Indeed. But the key point that was obfuscated in what was a truly excellent hypo is the fact that those hypos elicit long answers because of ambiguities in the facts and the law. Those ambiguities exist to an even greater degree in most AskMe legal-advice-request threads because, unlike law professors, OPs here don't know enough about the law to write a good hypo. A good exam question will take a lot of the "easy" answers out of play and get right down to the nuance... such is rarely the case on AskMe.

As for feeling bad about the fact that laypeople can't understand the law, mullacc? Spare me the melodrama. Laypeople don't understand how to build houses, perform surgeries, pick songs for weddings (apparently), write software, and so on. We're not making instant rice here, this is a system for drawing lines between people's rights... it's going to be complicated, and those complications have to be handled. If you think you've got a great idea for revolutionizing the legal system, quit whining about the problem and start working on a solution. The finger-wagging guilt-trips are silly and unproductive.

If we're talking about the best way to handle requests for legal advice on AskMe, the relevant factor is how the system is not how you think the system should be.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2008


this is a system for drawing lines between people's rights... it's going to be complicated, and those complications have to be handled

That is brilliant. That is exactly what I'm trying to say in a nutshell. The reason these answers are complicated is that 300 million people live in this country and they do a lot of things.

As for deleting common responses that advise others to get an attorney, contrary to jessamyn's response above, such responses are not "noise." They constitute very real answers to a question that the moderator does not have the expertise to delete or answer. Meanwhile, absolutely wrong advice stays up. In other words, the exact purpose of the AskMe site is defeated. This policy cannot be rationally defended.

This, for Matthowie, is putting this site, and everything in it, in potential legal jepoardy. Of course only one in 1000 situations may turn bad. But $100,000 in legal fees out of that 1 in a thousand case is enough to pull this site completely off the internet. For good.

I don't want to see that. That is why I argue that all non-hypothetical legal questions should be banned from AskMe. I think the site is safe allowing questions like "How did the state of Texas remove all of those people from the Mormon compound," but not from questions involving "My brother is the beneficiary of an annuity, but my dad wanted both him and my younger sibling to benefit, how do we work this out?"
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 AM on June 18, 2008


I'm a lawyer and I have answered questions when they were related to my area of expertise and I thought I could help. One answer led to a lengthy private e-mail correspondence and I was able to refer the questioner to a qualified practitioner in her area and I was really glad to be of help to her.

I get asked similar questions by other lawyers and laypeople in my real life every day of the week and I take the time to answer them because one of the reasons I became a lawyer was to help people.

I also do it in part to try to dispel the notion that we're all just greedy assholes.
posted by pasici at 11:33 AM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


They constitute very real answers to a question that the moderator does not have the expertise to delete or answer.

Actually, I have the expertise to delete anything because, unlike yours, my job is very very simple.

That said, I feel like I'm not being clear here. If someone explains "Look this is really a question you need a trained professional for and here's why..." without being snarky or just typing "lawyerlawyerlawyer" as an answer, we leave it. It makes sense to leave it for all the reasons you've all explicated above.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:39 AM on June 18, 2008


Spare me the melodrama

But how else am I supposed to pass the time while my scribeslawyers turn those comments I gave them on my merger agreement?
posted by mullacc at 12:04 PM on June 18, 2008


life coach life coach life coach life coach life coach life coach!

(or maybe porn; your choice)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:53 PM on June 18, 2008


I stand corrected. I will admit that I have sometimes typed "laywer." for particularly egregious legal questions.

I still think that non-hypo law questions represent a real, if currently remote danger for the site. Should one blow up, the costs would be really high.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2008


I think that might be a real risk, Ironmouth.

And it can possibly involve not only personal liability for advice acted upon with detriment to the OP, but also potential liability against the site for enabling (or not taking reasonable precautions against) such an eventuality.

Would a suitably framed disclaimer help? eg "All advice on AskMe is strictly the personal opinion of unknown interwebs people. MetaFilter LLC does not verify the professional credentials of these momma's-basement-dwellers & will accept no responsibility for actions or consequences taken by anybody as a result of these opinions, in perpetuity &c &c"?

(with a pair of those agree/disagree radio buttons to seal the deal)

disclaimer: i am not anybody's lawyer.

(your jurisdiction may vary)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:25 PM on June 18, 2008


afterthought: this video could be appended, to clarify the nature of the people offering advice.

(the guy in the sunnies is my image of loquacious, fwiw)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:48 PM on June 18, 2008


pasici, I admire your willingness to help people, but all it takes is one person who gets annoyed at the answer you gave them, or one enemy who googles you and finds that you dispensed legal advice online, and suddenly you have a complaint for unauthorized practice of law in a jurisdiction that you were not licensed in*.

In general terms, describing the legal framework that governs a question is a good thing (though even then, specificity is dangerous). Advising posters on what they ought to do in a particular situation is fraught with peril.

I'm not saying don't do pro bono work. But doing it on the internet is asking for trouble.

* I suppose you could avoid the unauthorized practice of law dilemma by only answering legal questions for MeFi posters who reside in the state you are licensed to practice law in. But you still have the potential malpractice issues to worry about.
posted by Happydaz at 3:33 PM on June 18, 2008


I seem to recall my editor telling me once that lay people were allowed to give legal advice, precisely because they weren't lawyers (i.e., not pretending to be a lawyer but all risk any action taken based on personal advice is assumed by the person asking). He was a newspaper editor, tho', not a lawyer. I'm curious to know if that's true or if he was talking out of his butt.

In any case, it's all pretty much Greek to me (or Latin, as the case may be), a language I don't speak, so I'm not gonna be answering questions on say, landlord/tenant law. I think the best non-lawyer people can do is say, "well, I did this when that happened to me, but you might wanna check with the state or a lawyer," something like that? The latest writing gig I just had was vetted by an attorney, has disclaimers, and throughout the text there is the phrase: "seek an attorney's advice," so :::shrug::: yeah, for all things legal, it's best to get a lawyer. As long as it's clear to the asker on AskMe that it's not legal advice, maybe "accept the terms" sort of thing, I don't see a problem. But then again, IANAL.

Here's a handy link for referrals, anyway.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2008


I seem to recall my editor telling me once that lay people were allowed to give legal advice, precisely because they weren't lawyers

In New South Wales, last time I checked you weren't allowed to give legal advice for a fee unless admitted as a solicitor or barrister. As long as you were doing it for free, it was open slather, although I have no idea what the liability for poor advice might be.

Your jurisdiction may vary. IANAL.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:49 PM on June 22, 2008


If doing something would cause you to lose your license, then just don't do it.
posted by gjc at 5:52 PM on June 26, 2008


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