Get a Lawyer! Really, you need a lawyer! Hey, you might want to get a lawyer! February 23, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

What is the point in allowing legal questions when the only reasonable answer is going to be "get a lawyer"? One of many examples. Also, the people who ARE lawyers on the site cannot give legal advice anyway.
posted by desjardins to Etiquette/Policy at 10:41 AM (113 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I say we just shut down AskMe altogether, that way no one can bitch about it anymore.
posted by BeerFilter at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


The person is getting the answers they need: to get a lawyer. If every question about the law looked like this, yes it would be problematic, but it doesn't come up every single time a legal opinion is sought on ask mefi.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2010


I think the idea when they work is for people to get a basic grounding in what types of things they need to be asking the lawyer (or doctor) about. Even if they think they are asking for legal advice. AskMe is essentially a Hive Mind advice column and from listening to Dan Savage, I've determined that half of all advice given is just giving you the kick in the pants you need on stuff that has been bubbling up subconsciously.
posted by edbles at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know, we should consult a lawyer...but we are struggling to survive as is and would prefer to avoid that expense.

That.

Anything else?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:47 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sometimes people need to hear that "Getting a lawyer is NOT an option" will not actually allow them to solve their problems. I'm as annoyed as you are, but really this is not an AnonyMe question and isn't deletable under any current guideline. Whoever is flagging all the "Get a lawyer" responses as noise is welcome to do that, but we won't be removing those answers unless it turns into a jokey pile-on. "This is WHY you need a lawyer" answers actually add information to the thread, even if it's information the OP doesn't perhaps want to hear.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Clearly this should have been posted on answers.yahoo.metafilter.com
posted by special-k at 10:49 AM on February 23, 2010


And to add to that, there's "we can't do this" and "we prefer not to do this" interpretations to what the OP said. Sometimes the answer is, plain and simple "find legal advice, however you can" and just preferring not to pay for a lawyer if you don't absolutely have to... well people are saying this may be a time you absolutely have to.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2010


However, people can give anecdotal evidence in support of seeking out why one should see a lawyer. And sometimes good information comes out of a question even if it is not official/sanctioned legal advice. The question linked? Well, now they are resonantly confident that the State in which the kid lives is the State that has jurisdiction, that they need a family practice lawyer, and where they can start looking for pro bono assistance.

Sometimes you get the answers you need, not the answers you want.
posted by edgeways at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd also like to point out that there is a MeFi wiki page on the Get A Lawyer topic, and it can be helpful in providing a boilerplate explanation of what is involved with hiring a lawyer and what options exist for people who can't afford one. Adding a link to that may be more helpful than just a basic lawyer up response.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:55 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


desjardins. . .I agree with you to a point, but I also think that an answer like "get a lawyer, AND here is what I know/have experienced with this that may increase your knowlege base" is something that happens a lot on legal, medical, and other "professional" questions here, and is not inappropriate.
posted by Danf at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoever is flagging all the "Get a lawyer" responses as noise is welcome to do that

I didn't take this as an accusation, but fyi I have not flagged anything in that thread (or anything else today, incidentally).
posted by desjardins at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2010


Often the people who believe they can least afford a lawyer end up paying more because of this.

To avoid the $1,000 lawyer bill they end up paying a lot more in support.

Doesn't even have to be this kind of case. All the time I read about people that try to do something financially complicated, but do it incorrectly and end up with tax implications that wouldn't have occurred if they'd had someone that understood tax law.

Personally, and I know this is outside the purview of the askme, but I'd feel a lot better about that question if the father had asked it.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:58 AM on February 23, 2010


Yeah I don't know who is flagging stuff unless I take the extra step to peek and it doesn't matter to me personally anyhow. Sorry for the sideways accusation, it wasn't intended.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:01 AM on February 23, 2010


I still don't get how I as an informed, educated adult, can possibly be harming metafilter by asking for legal or medical advice here.

So you believe that I should only get legal or medical advice from paid professionals. I don't, and I'm the one asking for the advice. If I get bad advice, that's my problem - not metafilter's and not yours. Also, as has been pointed out in many of these threads, medical and legal advice provided by doctors or lawyers can be and often is wrong - or contradicts the advice of other professionals in the same field. Doctors and lawyers are not arbiters of capital "T" Truth. They are informed professionals. For me, they are one resource of many which also includes books, well-researched websites, and yes, regular people who have had similar life experiences.

Sometimes I need some regular people's opinions - but I'm 35 years old and one thing I don't need is a babysitter.
posted by serazin at 11:11 AM on February 23, 2010 [26 favorites]


serazin: What about a hall monitor?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2010


Sometimes I need some regular people's opinions - but I'm 35 years old and one thing I don't need is a babysitter.

This is fine, and people often will give advice or cite laws, especially with rent questions. However, it's not limited only to legal/medical questions; construction and home-improvement questions sometimes are answered with, "this is more complex than you realize, talk to a contractor." Car questions often come down to, "you're gonna need to see a mechanic."
posted by explosion at 11:19 AM on February 23, 2010


No, but I could use a stern, buff, gym teacher. Hubba hubba.
posted by serazin at 11:19 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have no problem with one answer to the question being "get a lawyer". I don't even have a problem with two or three people also saying get a lawyer for confirmation. But when the eighth person chimes in "yeah, get a lawyer," it becomes noise, and probably not helpful for the OP.
posted by Melismata at 11:19 AM on February 23, 2010


explosion - that's fine. Give those answers. But don't disallow the question.
posted by serazin at 11:20 AM on February 23, 2010


What is the point in allowing legal questions when the only reasonable answer is going to be "get a lawyer"?

Only a mod or mathowie can answer that.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:24 AM on February 23, 2010


Also, in that question, one answer gives this additional valuable information: "Contact an attorney in the county where the children live..."

$$ is important, but time is equally important. Saving someone an hour or more wrangling with finding and consulting with the wrong lawyer counts as helpful.
posted by amtho at 11:26 AM on February 23, 2010


I think there is a place for such questions in AskMe. Sure, this person definitely needs to see a lawyer (or a doctor or a mechanic as the case may be). But it helps to have be more informed when one does not have any idea where to start.

Let's say someone wants to know what might be wrong with their car. The best answer can only come from a mechanic who has a chance to inspect the car. However, it is helpful for the OP to know some possibilities, an idea of how much these things cost to fix, seriousness of the issue etc. before talking to a real live mechanic. Replace car with a health issue or a legal issue and the same thing applies.

Maybe the OP could just benefit from pointers or positions to consider when talking to a real lawyer.
posted by special-k at 11:27 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I changed my mind on this after the last Meta I made where really outrageously bad and potentially harmful mental health information was being authoratatively shared by members who clearly have no idea what they were talking about. These legal questions should be axed, also questions asking for medical advice. Every single one of them. AskMetafilter has become a machine that consistently generates bad information in these areas. The only hope for accurate and useful information is that at whatever random time one of these questions goes up is maybe someone with a clue will be there to direct traffic and that is simply not good enough. I know this is an unpopular viewpoint, but I think it's one that will be increasingly expressed by people with expertise in the specific areas of professional practice that AskMe simply doesn't provide very good information about.
posted by The Straightener at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you believe that I should only get legal or medical advice from paid professionals. I don't, and I'm the one asking for the advice. If I get bad advice, that's my problem - not metafilter's and not yours.

One complication is that non-lawyers giving legal advice to specific people for specific issues may actually be illegal. Different jurisdictions have different laws, and it's not exactly clear how those laws apply to something like AskMe, but it's within the realm of possibility that someone could get bad legal advice from a non-lawyer here and that the non-lawyer (or possibly MetaFilter itself) could face civil or criminal charges.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2010


Straightener and others - if people can't ask these types of questions here, will they go straight to their nearest accredited professional, or just give up? I think it's probably now more likely than before that the OP of this latest question will actually talk to a lawyer, instead of just trying to handle it without professional help.
posted by amtho at 11:33 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the value comes, not from the people who just say "get a lawyer", but from the people who point you in the direction of where/how to find the right kind of lawyer. Or the value a lawyer will actually provide. So while there's a lot of "get a lawyer" noise in the thread you linked to, there's also a lot of really good advice in that thread about why and how to get a lawyer.

Most people never think they're going to be sued, or need a lawyer. And when faced with that reality, it can be quite shocking and hard to imagine what to do.
posted by phelixshu at 11:36 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sometimes when people have parenting questions about hyperactive kids or trying to get work done or something in the presence of a noisy toddler, or babies that won't sleep through the night, my immediate thought it, "Can't you give it a shot of brandy?" But then I realize that's not going to be received well at all and maybe has some bad developmental effects on the kid. Luckily, I know not to suggest that and honestly, the stakes are high if the kid has some kind of allergy to alcohol no one knows about yet. I don't want to give bad advice. The law sounds pretty complicated and case specific, and sometimes, the stakes are pretty high and the circumstances have to be pretty specific, I think. So it's not great to ask unless you can ask more questions and more questions. And who knows anything, aside from their own experience and wht they read on the internet or through some other media?

I read that thing about giving the kid a shot of brandy somewhere, but I don't know where, and I don't know how much or how old the kid is supposed to be.
posted by anniecat at 11:39 AM on February 23, 2010


These MeTas never get old, do they?
posted by fixedgear at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Melismata: I have no problem with one answer to the question being "get a lawyer". I don't even have a problem with two or three people also saying get a lawyer for confirmation. But when the eighth person chimes in "yeah, get a lawyer," it becomes noise, and probably not helpful for the OP.

You can say that again! I mean, at least try to explain why in this case a lawyer really is the only solution. Although even in this case one would hope that there are some books on the subject that could be helpful, or something.

MuffinMan: Only a mod or mathowie can answer that.

That isn't how things work around here.
posted by Chuckles at 11:43 AM on February 23, 2010


Didn't we do this like a month and a half ago? I can't see that anything has changed since then.

I'm a lawyer. I make it a point to try to respond to all law-type questions on AskMe that 1) I see, and 2) that I know anything about, even if it's to say, like I did in the question with sparked this post: "Don't ask this here, just get a lawyer now."

There is, in fact, value to these things. Some legal questions people have can be satisfactorily answered here (more or less) because they aren't actually questions which require legal representation. "Should I sue this person?" doesn't always require a detailed knowledge of the facts or sophisticated legal analysis if, as in questions like this one, the answer wants to sue under a legal theory which hasn't been good law for decades. But even with the majority that do, being told "Get a lawyer and talk about x, y, and z" can be incredibly helpful not only in framing the asker's mental paradigms but in saving them money on legal fees by pointing at the right questions to ask. If nothing else, these can convince people who don't think they need a lawyer that they do, in fact, need a lawyer.

That being said, I'm consistently annoyed at the non-lawyers who give what amounts to legal advice--particularly when they quote cases, statutes, and regulations. Most of the time those citations are unhelpful at best or just downright misinterpreted. Still, I think it's incumbent on those MeFites who are lawyers to do a little self-policing here and point out obvious errors when they crop up.
posted by valkyryn at 11:43 AM on February 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


Straightener and others - if people can't ask these types of questions here, will they go straight to their nearest accredited professional, or just give up?

Who cares what they do? The greater issue is the generation, dissemination and archiving for search of bad information. It's bizarre that a community so typically litigious about the tiniest rhetorical details in general discussion doesn't really mind that much of what appears in AskMe on certain topics requiring professional expertise to adequately address has been shown to be wrong or essentially worthless and the rest of it hasn't been fact checked to determine how much of it is even correct or worthwhile.
posted by The Straightener at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2010


So you believe that I should only get legal or medical advice from paid professionals. I don't, and I'm the one asking for the advice. If I get bad advice, that's my problem - not metafilter's and not yours. Also, as has been pointed out in many of these threads, medical and legal advice provided by doctors or lawyers can be and often is wrong - or contradicts the advice of other professionals in the same field. Doctors and lawyers are not arbiters of capital "T" Truth. They are informed professionals. For me, they are one resource of many which also includes books, well-researched websites, and yes, regular people who have had similar life experiences.

This is about the best that I've seen this question answered, and it sums up my feelings perfectly. We don't need to protect people form the "gathering information" process, assuming that they won't know how to handle it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2010


AskMetafilter has become a machine that consistently generates bad information in these areas.

If we reject these questions people will go to Yahoo Answers and take whatever advice they gets there instead. Think of it as harm reduction.
posted by GuyZero at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2010


desjardins: “What is the point in allowing legal questions when the only reasonable answer is going to be ‘get a lawyer’?”

This is a very, very important point that doesn't get enough play, partially because people are understandably cautious and partially because some lawyers don't want it broadcast: not all legal questions require a lawyer to answer. Or, to put it slightly more clearly, not all apparently legal questions are actually legal.

When someone asks a question to which the only possible answer is "get a lawyer!" they are asking whether a particular matter falls into legal purview or not. This is true even when they say specifically that they'd rather not hire a lawyer. It may require a certain kind of legal expertise to recognize a situation which calls for legal expertise, but all of us, lawyers or not, are more or less capable of doing this; if we weren't, then we wouldn't be able to answer any question without a lawyer, since we wouldn't know the difference between a legal question and any other question.

In other words: "get a lawyer" is itself a specific, thoughtful, direct answer to many questions. It's not putting a question off, or saying "I can't help you;" it can be viewed as an actual response. Giving that answer is worthwhile.

It's moreover most worthwhile for the type of situation that I guess nobody's mentioned yet – a situation where a person doesn't need to get a lawyer. It seems to me that these situations are probably more numerous than we realize, and it's very, very helpful to note them. I'm not going to go digging, but the last time we had this argument, it was one of those very cases – a case where the person really didn't need to get a lawyer, someone said so, and a lot of people got upset. People can get upset, but the fact remains that you don't need to go handing somebody money every time you encounter a conflict in the world.
posted by koeselitz at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


To state the trouble with a "no legal questions" policy more directly:

Who would decide what constitutes a legal question?
posted by koeselitz at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Different jurisdictions have different laws, and it's not exactly clear how those laws apply to something like AskMe, but it's within the realm of possibility that someone could get bad legal advice from a non-lawyer here and that the non-lawyer (or possibly MetaFilter itself) could face civil or criminal charges.

Please, stop being disingenuous. Fact is, the definition of Legal Advice is, more or less, advice given by a lawyer. That link you provided is pushing a tautology with the intent of spreading FUD.

Or to put this another way, cite or shut up.
Small hint, based on what happened the last time this came up--only 7 weeks ago--you can't find one.
Note that there are actually three citations in that thread, on further investigation it will become clear that those were severely disingenuous, and not at all applicable to the issue at hand.

posted by Chuckles at 12:14 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with desjardins. I think that after the first "get a lawyer", all the rest are pile-on noise. Its infuriating to see AskMes where the person specifically says "I don't want or would rather not 'A'", and the responses are all "I know you said you don't want 'A', but do 'A'!!" That is infuriating. If those subsequent "answers" aren't deletable as noise (favorite "get a lawyer" if you agree with that, even if you want to throw some special snowflakeness in), then what is the point of even allowing the question. Because that question from the AskMe page with 1 reply says "still needs help". With 15, somebody probably already gave some good info. Except wait no, it was a chorus of "I know you said you don't want 'A', but do 'A'!"
posted by cashman at 12:17 PM on February 23, 2010


I left the particular question here alone, but sometimes as a lawyer, I truly intend to be helpful to someone when I explain why they need legal advice. They may not understand the complexity of the question, or may not see the value in getting professional advice. Sometimes that value is there, and getting someone out the door and into the right professional's office can be really helpful. Or at least, I hope it is, and I answer with the real intention of being helpful rather than generating noise.

Said differently, I think there is value for someone to say "I have X problem and I don't know what to do" and get answers back that somewhere out there a lawyer, or doctor, or podiatrist, or psychic(*) or cat whisperer can help with the problem. Sometimes problems feel overwhelming, entrenched and impossible to solve. Knowing someone can help can be a huge relief.

(*) I don't really believe that psychics can help with problems, other than perhaps the problem of being weighed down by all the cash taking up space in one's pocket.
posted by bunnycup at 12:18 PM on February 23, 2010


Who would decide what constitutes a legal question?

The lawyers, obviously. $200/hour minimum.
posted by Chuckles at 12:20 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


What I wish is that more people would actually explain the process of getting a lawyer. For most people, getting a lawyer is something they've (a) never done before and/or (b) may be terrified of the idea and/or (c) cannot afford one (d) and/or have no clue what type of lawyer to find, where to find them, or indeed anything about the process of actually getting legal help. I've never had a lawyer, for example, and the prospect of going into a legal situation for the first time scares me. I'd want to be informed, be armed with questions, have heard anecdotes, etc. I'd want resources on where to find the right kind of lawyer and how to choose one. I'd want advice. Tips. Anything to help me with a process I do not know.

So that's why, to me, "get a lawyer" is the right idea but is actually only part of the answer, and the best legal AskMe's (and by best I mean most helpful to the asker and readers) have detailed information on the process of hiring a lawyer. People treat the act of getting legal help as if it's as simple as tying your shoes, whereas for many people it's more like income tax or rocket science.
posted by ORthey at 12:25 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and actually I think there can be a lot of value to multiple answers - if 30 people say "get a lawyer," chances are that's a pretty good idea. I have no issue with the get-a-lawyer-pileons, I just wish more people got into more detail about it.
posted by ORthey at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2010


ORThey, the MeFi wiki has a nice page about getting a lawyer. It could be more fleshed out, but it's not bad. Maybe we need two more for "seek therapy" or "see a doctor" with similar how-to-do-it advice.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:31 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and actually I think there can be a lot of value to multiple answers - if 30 people say "get a lawyer," chances are that's a pretty good idea.

OK, so you want to use one of your lifelines. Let's poll AskMe. 87% said 'get a lawayer.'
posted by fixedgear at 12:34 PM on February 23, 2010


The (recent) answers by not that girl and webhund are helpful types of answers to me. They get into actually addressing the details of the question that was asked - giving related experience and insight.
posted by cashman at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2010


Eponysterical, Chuckles, eponysterical.

I'll bite.

Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code sec. 6126(a) reads, in part:

"Any person. . . practicing law who is not an active member of the State Bar, or otherwise authorized pursuant to statute or court rule to practice law in this state at the time of doing so, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail or by a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment."

What's "practicing law" you ask? Therein lies the rub. Various state courts have recognized it as the giving of "legal advice and counsel and the preparation of
legal instruments and contracts by which legal rights are secured although such
matter may or may not be depending in a court of law." Basically, anything statement relating to legal rights or obligations can be construed as the practice of law.

So, in short, any time someone on AskMe advises someone on their legal rights, they run the risk of engaging in the unlicensed practice of law. While as I've said above and elsewhere, I don't think this is as big a problem as it might be, refusing to recognize that it is, in fact, a problem, is just ig'nant.

Happy now?
posted by valkyryn at 12:40 PM on February 23, 2010


ORThey, the MeFi wiki has a nice page about getting a lawyer.

Wow, I had no idea. That's exactly the kind of helpful advice I was thinking about. Perhaps a link to that from time to time in answers could be a good idea.
posted by ORthey at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2010


If giving any advice pertaining to the law is potentially an illegal act, then isn't the act of telling someone they could get in legal trouble for giving advice pertaining to the law itself potentially illegal?

So we not only shouldn't give legal advice, we shouldn't give advice on whether we should give legal advice, and we shouldn't give advice on whether we should give legal advice on whether we should give legal advice.

It's torts all the way down...
posted by lore at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


I think pile-ons are actually useful. If one person writes DTMFA or Get a Lawyer and everyone else moves on silently because they agree, the asker has no way to distinguish that from the situation in which only one person even read it. The unanimous opinion of everyone in the thread will probably be more persuasive than a lone voice.

But, sure, repetition becomes noise at some point, and we could argue endlessly at what point that is. 3? 4? 10?
posted by Zed at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2010


Different jurisdictions have different laws, and it's not exactly clear how those laws apply to something like AskMe, but it's within the realm of possibility that someone could get bad legal advice from a non-lawyer here and that the non-lawyer (or possibly MetaFilter itself) could face civil or criminal charges.

Please, stop being disingenuous. Fact is, the definition of Legal Advice is, more or less, advice given by a lawyer. That link you provided is pushing a tautology with the intent of spreading FUD.

Or to put this another way, cite or shut up.


Ironically I'm not a lawyer or otherwise an expert about this sort of thing, so I may be completely wrong. But for the record, I wasn't being disingenuous. I genuinely think that it's possible for someone to get in trouble for giving legal advice to someone without being a lawyer, and that this concept would apply to AskMe.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:52 PM on February 23, 2010


To get a lawyer, you ask your friends and family if they've ever hired a lawyer and did they trust that person, would they recommend that person and can you have his/her number. If the answer is no, you call your local bar association and ask for a referral line. A referral line will take a few moments to determine what your problem is and what sort of attorney you need and will give you some names and numbers. A bar association generally has a pay-for-play agreement with the lawyers it maintains in their database, but the only give referrals, not recommendations, so you are not to take the information they offer as any greater endorsement than a listing in the yellow pages. You can look in the yellow pages. You can call your local legal aid office and ask them if they can help you and if they cannot, can they refer you to someone who can.

Now, you have a list of referrals. Sit down, make a short (2-3 paragraph) narrative of what happened. Write a 2-3 sentence explanation of what outcome you want. Make a short list of immediate questions (Do you handle these cases? What is your fee? Do you have payment plans? If you can't help, do you know someone who can?). Set aside a couple hours and start making calls.

You will most likely get an intake person on the phone, not the attorney. The intake person will want your 2-3 paragraph brief explanation of what happened; your 2-3 sentence of hoped for outcome; your phone number and possibly an email address. The intake person may or may not be able to answer your questions and may or may not ask you to fax or email any legal documents that have already been served upon you. The intake person will probably ask you some question. The intake person will then either say "We do not handle this sort of case" at which point you ask for a referral; or will say "The attorney will return your phone call within X hours or X days." It's possible the intake person will set up an appointment for you to visit the office. If not, you will set that up when you talk to the attorney. Most generally speaking you will not be charged for this intake phone call or the intake appointment.

At the intake appointment with the attorney, he or she will ask you very pointed questions. He or she will give you an assessment of what sort of battle you are facing, what your likely outcomes are, how long it's likely to take. He or she will show you an engagement letter, outlying the terms of your hiring the attorney, including fee and expenses. You will either agree to hire that attorney or not. If you don't like the attorney, talk to someone else. You can always call back and say, "hey, we met last week and I did not hire you, but after checking around I think you're the best guy for the job, are you available to take the case."

You should speak to more than one attorney before you hire one. You should not hire an attorney who treats you rudely or with disrespect in an intake interview. You should not hire an attorney who does not promptly respond to a request for information about his or her services. If more than one attorney tells you to go to a different county or tells you to drop it, you should take that advice.

Once you've hired an attorney, you should expect regular updates on the case. You should also expect prompt return calls from the office if not necessarily the attorney. You should respect the attorney's time, as your time should also be respected, and if your attorney asks for information or documents from you, don't delay in providing them. Also, if the attorney says to you "I will not have any further information for at least 30 days." for the love of god and for the sake of your relationship with the attorney, don't call back until the 30 days are up. Sometimes cases move incredibly slowly. Although it's (hopefully) your only case, and the most important thing in your life, it's, unfortunately, not the most important thing in the judicial system in your county. It's possible it's not even the most demanding or pressing case in your attorney's workload. Most likely, your case is something that the attorneys and the judge have already seen 62 million times which runs a reasonably predictable path and until the delays or timeline starts looking really weird to them (or looking deliberate or like incompetence), it's unlikely to be considered something that needs to be sped through the courts.

Ask questions, but try to accept it when the attorney tells you that what you think ought to be or what you think is fair is not the way the law works. Make sure your attorney explains the difference. Vent to someone who isn't your attorney; he or she is not your friend, nor your therapist, but a person you have hired to do what is quite often a shitty job. Pay your bill promptly.

If you really feel your attorney is not responsive, not respectful, or not advocating for you, tell him or her. If you do not get an adequate response to that concern, start the process over, being sure to tell the new attorneys you call that you will be asking them to substitute into litigation already in progress.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:53 PM on February 23, 2010 [376 favorites]


Various state courts have recognized it as the giving of "legal advice and counsel and the preparation of legal instruments and contracts by which legal rights are secured although such matter may or may not be depending in a court of law."

And...?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:54 PM on February 23, 2010


any time someone on AskMe advises someone on their legal rights, they run the risk of engaging in the unlicensed practice of law

Just to interject from a modly perspective, we believe this is an issue with The Entire World and are not worried about how it applies to AskMe any more than how it applies to the world at large. People may think that's cavalier, but that's our feeling.

We're working on a terms of service that will be a little more clear that we don't think you should use AskMe as a substitute for real legal/medical advice, but other than that, we think it's not our place to police whether or not we think it's at all likely that someone's comment in AskMe will land them in hot water for practicing without a license. Realistically we have to separate the possible from the likely. If people would like to personally worry about that, that is their business.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hmm, valkyryn posts one comment complaining about non-lawyers citing cases, potentially in a completely inappropriate application, then comes back later citing California code about 'practicing law'.... completely absent any citations of where it's been applied against 'civilians' on an internet forum.

Lawyer, heal thyself.

And come back with an actual example of any court convicting an informed amateur under a similar code. If you're going to take issue with inappropriate citations from others then don't you think it's kinda hypocritical to cite unannotated state law? (hint: it is)

Christ, you didn't even manage to find a code from the state you actually practice in, if your profile location is accurate.
posted by phearlez at 1:02 PM on February 23, 2010


phearlez, the point that these sorts of ethical opinions (1) often don't exist and (2) don't reside in some sort of searchable database was hammered pretty hard the last time we had this fight.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2010


amtho writes: Straightener and others - if people can't ask these types of questions here, will they go straight to their nearest accredited professional, or just give up?

The Straightener responds: Who cares what they do? The greater issue is the generation, dissemination and archiving for search of bad information.

That is a fucked-up, backwards viewpoint. AskMe does not exist primarily as a repository of knowledge for future generations to google. It exists as a place for people to ask and get answers to questions. So to answer your question: if you're an active member of AskMe, you should care.
posted by adamrice at 1:10 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Basically, anything statement relating to legal rights or obligations can be construed as the practice of law.

So, jailhouse "lawyers" are breaking the law (in some jurisdictions) and could...go to jail for helping a fellow inmate file an appeal, using law books provided in the law library in the prison. Wacky.

I thought this question was interesting. It's not medical, exactly, or solely (is it?) and the poster got what sounds like good advice ("get a new doctor!") when she mentioned some things her current doctor was telling her.

Paid professionals are just as capable of giving crappy advice as non-paid non-professionals.* Coming to a place like AskMe and asking about a problem that is, perhaps, best solved by a paid professional is still a good thing - as others have noted, it can give the asker terms to use, or questions to ask the paid professional, or advice on where/how to find one, and personal anecdotes about how similar situation Foo worked out for the person answering the question.

* This is not to say that the advice of Random Internet People is just as good as the advice of doctor/lawyer/Indian chief. But there are, in fact, bad lawyers, doctors, and whathaveyou out there, and the fact that these are heavily regulated professions does not eliminate the bad practitioners, something we should all remember.
posted by rtha at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2010


phearlez, seriously, dude, I already said I don't think this is as big of a deal as it's made out to be. My point was to correct Herr Chuckles misinformed notion that unlicensed practice of law is not, in fact, a real legal problem. And craven_morhead is right on both of his points.

Step the f*ck off.
posted by valkyryn at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2010


valkyryn, you can fucking swear here.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


No you cannot fucking swear here.
posted by Babblesort at 1:17 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


rtha, your particular example of inmates doing law isn't really the same thing. There is a difference between representing yourself--going "pro se" in legal parlance, which everyone actually has a right to do--and representing or advising someone else, which requires a law license. The problem with AskMe is that it involves people purporting to give advice, much of which is very easy to construe as legal advice, to other people, which kind of by definition runs up against the unlicensed practice of law.

While one inmate helping another could, in theory, be made to fit under that definition, inmates are, also by definition, already in jail so 1) sending them to jail seems kind of unnecessary, but more importantly, 2) this doesn't pose much of a risk to the public, and most importantly, 3) inmates can in fact be sanctioned for abusing the legal process with frivolous appeals and lawsuits. It isn't done very often, because it's usually not worth the effort--again, they're already in jail--but it does happen. Don't ask for cases, because these things never get reported, but yes, it happens.
posted by valkyryn at 1:21 PM on February 23, 2010



Lawyer, heal thyself.


Lawyer sue thyself ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:28 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point was to correct Herr Chuckles misinformed notion that unlicensed practice of law is not, in fact, a real legal problem.

Could you please point me to the comment where he said that? I can't seem to find it.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2010


Straightener: Who cares what they do?

I care. Sometimes a lot, not always very much. I think a lot of people care about the other people who ask questions here. I've seen evidence of great caring.
posted by amtho at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2010


I missed the recent Meta thread about legal advice; thanks for bringing that to my attention.

We've had discussions before about medical questions where the only reasonable reply is "go see a doctor." IIRC, some of those have actually been deleted because the answer was so obvious. Some of the legal questions on AskMe are apparently also that blatant if every answer is "get a lawyer."
posted by desjardins at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2010


As your attorney, I would advise you to get a lawyer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And come back with an actual example of any court convicting an informed amateur under a similar code.

As I said I'm not an expert on this topic, but there does seem to have been a similar situation in Ohio. A non-lawyer set up a website and posted general free legal advice. He was not convicted of unauthorized practice of law, but:

Most importantly, the Board found that "one key element of the practice of law is missing in published advice offered to the general public: the tailoring of that advice to the needs of a specific person." Indeed, "the practice of law involves the rendering of legal advice to an individual."

Thus, according to the Board, "the publication of legal advice on Palmer's web-site, good or bad, is not of itself the unauthorized practice of the law." Still, it was "troubling" to the Board that Palmer offered to respond to "any questions about your rights" and to "provide you with guidance and/or advice." The Board concluded that "if Palmer actually gave legal advice in specific response to a question from one of his readers, he would have engaged in the unauthorized practice of the law."


So that board in that particular state seems to have said that a non-lawyer giving legal advice on the Internet to a specific person for a specific issue would be considered unauthorized practice of law. I have no idea if that would apply to AskMe or how it would be considered in other states, etc. but I'm just throwing that out there.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:36 PM on February 23, 2010


I think what many askmefi posters and just about all of the attorneys on mefi try to do in legal questions is avoid what burnmp3's example talks about: tailoring legal advice to the needs of a specific person. Pointing out legal standards, or common considerations in X-type cases isn't legal advice. Saying "this statute might help you out a lot" gets a lot closer. Saying "you should sue Landlord with this statute in this court and argue these points" is.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2010


Chuckles: That isn't how things work around here

Why? Is irony dead already?
posted by MuffinMan at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2010


A non-trivial fraction of the relationship questions have huge HUGE pileones saying, "DTMFA", or "couples counseling", or "therapy", or... Should we just dis-allow all relationship questions? Should we disallow any post that says, "I agree with A, above"?

Of course not. In the first place, the traffic is now so high that multiple, near-identical responses are nearly inevitable. [side/related derail omitted here] In the second place, reinforcing statements which basically agree with previous statements have value; if you get a large, near-unanimous response, that at least sends a strong signal that that particular response should be considered, however disinclined the OP is to do so. And in the third place, these mini-"pileons" (with about a 10th the number of responses of a human relations pileon) are actually incrementally fleshing out the answer, and the reason for the answer. In the cited thread, for example:
-- get a lawyer
-- get a family lawyer
-- get a lawyer in the relevant state
-- this is complicated; here are some of the nuts&bolts that a lawyer will help work out
-- here are a couple resources for free legal advice (recall the OP's $ concern)
-- it is penny wise & pound foolish to forgo a lawyer; here are some illustrations, including larger-picture issues about family development
-- you seem to be viewing this from a moral perspective; that perspective is basically irrelevant in matters of law (get a lawyer)(*)
-- lawyers are going to be involved, whether you want that or not. Your adversaries have already employed one; you need to, too.
-- this probably won't be nearly as expensive as you imagine; it definitely won't be as expensive as forgoing legal counsel
-- since multiple states are involved, make sure you choose your representation from the correct state. Be prepared with questions so you can choose appropriate representation.
[Discussion about excessive consistency and agreement in answers, etc. to Metatalk]
-- here's anecdotal illustration about how/where to get legal counsel if you can't afford it.
-- this might help explain some of your questions about the confusing accounting & deductions system they're referring to. Make sure your lawyer is familiar with UIFSA

I don't see how any (eight-grade+) literate person can think the above is equivalent to:

"Get a lawyer" X 16
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


3) inmates can in fact be sanctioned for abusing the legal process with frivolous appeals and lawsuits. It isn't done very often, because it's usually not worth the effort--again, they're already in jail--but it does happen.

Like I said - wacky!

I kind of remember Nolo Press getting into trouble some years back, centering around their "giving legal advice" (or not, or something). I've used them for my will and power-of-attorney paperwork since then, so I guess they're still around.
posted by rtha at 2:15 PM on February 23, 2010


I already said I don't think this is as big of a deal as it's made out to be. My point was to correct Herr Chuckles misinformed notion that unlicensed practice of law is not, in fact, a real legal problem.

Nobody claimed there wasn't statute prohibiting practicing law without proper credentials. You, however, keep repeatedly saying things like "any time someone on AskMe advises someone on their legal rights, they run the risk of engaging in the unlicensed practice of law." You can't beat that drum repeatedly while saying "but it's not a big deal!"

You can find states with statutes still on the books that are long antiquated, a la scaring the horses with that new-fangled auto car machine, but they're irrelevant to modern situations. Similarly, unless you can produce one instance where someone was charged - much less convicted - with practicing law without a license after answering a question on a message board, you're just making noise.

Burnmp3's link is the closest thing anyone has produced and that is tied to a specific individual setting up a devoted forum and it's a hypothetical that, at best, gives an indication of what that particular body would rule if faced with a variation on that situation.

Step the f*ck off.

Oh, okay Vanilla Ice, I is totally served. *snort*
posted by phearlez at 2:18 PM on February 23, 2010


It's kind of ironic that of all the hundreds (thousands?) of AskMe's that get the "You need a lawyer" response, the specific AskMe linked at the top of this page was actually quite well suited for an AskMe legal question.

First, the questioner admits that her "question is too complicated for me to figure out how to google the answer." Great, let us give you some suggestions on how you might narrow your search, identify search terms, etc. Second, the questioner doesn't want "the" answer to her question, but merely "any suggestions of sites we might go for help would be great." Fair enough, so let us give you some specific places on the internets to look rather than a google broadbrush approach. Third, the poster recognizes that "I know, we should consult a lawyer...but we are struggling to survive as is and would prefer to avoid that expense." That's reasonable, but perhaps not realistic given the complicated nature of calculating child support in many (most?) instances. Finally, there's even an unintended bonus-point fact in the question that only a family law attorney would recognize. Basically, those types of questions (who/what/where/why/how) are the essence of every good AskMe, whether it's what kind of guitar to buy, what sites are the greatest for pre-teen RPG's, the best non-freeway biking route between Portland and Vancouver, or whether having additional dependent children can affect child support. It's what makes the Green so nifty.

From this lawyer's viewpoint, I would much rather have that kind of thoughtful question than the typical legal AskMe question such as this example. That quickly becomes chat-filter as it's essentially unanswerable.

Oh, lest we forget: IANYL.
posted by webhund at 2:20 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


What I wish is that more people would actually explain the process of getting a lawyer.

In my case Blazecock Pileon kinda threw out a challenge to make a post about a legal brief during the Glen Beck website case. So I did what I could. And then because I am an idiot I decided to write said lawyer a fan letter (self-link). He replied (self-link). I then decided to email the original website owner who basically said something like, "I sent your email onto Marc." I got an email from Marc (the lawyer). He offered to look over any Cease and Desist letters I get. In my reply I made a joke about how if I ever get sued I planned to defend myself, because how hard can it be? And it looks like fun.

He told me this would be a bad idea, and offered to put me in touch with a good Iowa lawyer. Then before I could reply to that I got an offer from him to represent me. So we signed paperwork and I have me a shiny new lawyer.

Then it gets even weirder. Someone set up a facebook fanpage, creating the Randazza Society, and made me an officer (this fan club was something that was made up by Marc in his original letter to me). I looked it over and saw that Marc was the only guy banned from the group. It now has over 40 members including his wife and several of his employees.

Anyway, that's how I got my lawyer. I assume this is pretty much how it works for everyone.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:21 PM on February 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


On preview: (*) Was going to add an illustrative anecdote re. moral perspective != legal perspective. This is not mere cynicism -- for example, a lot of people could save themselves a lot of grief & money if they directed their law-related problems to lawyers, and their personal-perspective problems to therapists, rather than force their lawyer to be a surrogate therapist.

On preview also: crush-onastick's writeup is really, really helpful (thanx). It deserves wider distribution; it'd probably be pretty helpful for the OP in the first (spawning?) thread. [I suppose someone should mention that. (Oh! I could do that!? I mean, if it turned out to be a breach of etiquette or otherwise somehow uncool, the mods could just delete it, right? right?)]
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 2:27 PM on February 23, 2010


however disinclined the OP is to do so.

I see - so screw what the person specifically is excluding, and give them what you personally think they need. You can't answer the question, but you can specifically go against what they are looking for, echoing the chorus of already non-answer replies? Is it AskMe or ParentMe?

I don't see how any (eight-grade+) literate person can think the above is equivalent to:

"Get a lawyer" X 16


Thanks for the insult. I did comment to point out what I thought were helpful replies, which were the most useful part of the bullet points you created. Get a family lawyer, get a lawyer in the relevant state--yeah, cause I'm sure the first thing they would have done if those hadn't been posted is call up a tax attorney in Minnesota and ask them. The rest of it is similar, and not specifically addressing child support issues in Ohio, more specifically income calculations.

It's like asking about the details of a 2-3 zone and everybody chiming in "get a coach, get a coach" instead of having current and former athletes talk about how they ran it, what their experiences were, and what success they had. I think a thread with responses like the ones that came after Jessamyn's meta link are actually helpful and what the OP wants, rather than what they specifically said they knew about and were not looking for, which is "go get a lawyer". Given the choice to delete either the answers after Jessamyn's entry into the thread, or the "go get a lawyer" repeats before it, I'm guessing the OP would choose to keep the later answers. What do you think?
posted by cashman at 3:31 PM on February 23, 2010


No "get a paternity test"?

Oh, wait, IANAD.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:58 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only reasonable answer may be "Get a lawyer!" but presumably the person asking doesn't know that (or hopes it might not be) or they wouldn't be asking. Sure, the question gets a long echoing round of lawyerlawyerlawyer with occasional bursts of nonsense and bad advice and even the odd useful background point, but hopefully the number of identical responses gets through to the poster and that in itself therefore has some value.
posted by dilettante at 4:10 PM on February 23, 2010


Anyway, that's how I got my lawyer. I assume this is pretty much how it works for everyone

That, cjorgensen, is a great Metafilter story for the ages.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:16 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are legal questions and then there are legal questions. I'm going to guess that there are two primary reasons why lawyers are hesitant to answer legal questions online.

First, a lawyer learns very quickly that a client's whole story never comes out all at once, and that lay-folk are generally not very good at discerning "legally relevant facts." So it takes time, preferably face-to-face time, in order to tease out enough facts to even start to formulate a legal picture. The picture can change completely in the course of an interview. Hopefully the picture is fully formed and relatively stable by the end of the interview, or at least before any irreversible action has been taken on behalf of of the client. Even then you can't be sure -- you don't practice long before you get your first client who lies to your face.

So, when confronted with a few paragraphs on a website, any prudent lawyer would be, should be, wary of giving advice. Which is why I don't give advice online -- because given the whole picture the advice I give could be very bad indeed.

Second, I think non-lawyers are not really aware of just how different the law is in different jurisdictions. In some branches of law (e.g., bankruptcy, civil rights) this is less so, in others (e.g., family law) more so. In fact, I was just reading a great article by Lynn LoPucki about this very issue, and how the "law" really isn't the statutes or the caselaw at all, but rather the mental models created by and shared among the practitioners in a given community. Even though this law grows out of the "formal" law, it is disconnected from it and can vary dramatically from time to time and place to place. This is true even in LoPucki's particular area of expertise, bankruptcy, which is supposed to be uniform across the US.

Anyhow, like I said in that last epic metatalk thread about this issue, I do try to answer legal questions that I feel competent to speak to, and I do what I can to eliminate the notion that lawyers are a special priestly class, but people need to give a guy a break, too.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I fear my patience for these threads is wearing thin. This post is a bunch of bullshit.
posted by Justinian at 6:45 PM on February 23, 2010


how the "law" really isn't the statutes or the caselaw at all, but rather the mental models created by and shared among the practitioners in a given community.

This is exactly why it is such a heated debate online, and why FUD like that article linked upthread exist. Some lawyers are fighting to extend the definition of "practice law", and MetaFilter is right on the front lines.
posted by Chuckles at 6:55 PM on February 23, 2010


I'm a lawyer. I don't have any interest in trying to answer legal questions on AskMe because doing it well is too much work and doing it poorly offends my sense of professional pride. I don't care if other people do it poorly, though. I'm sure people answer all sorts of questions poorly.
posted by planet at 9:11 PM on February 23, 2010


I've wondered about this before, although more in relation to the medical questions. It comes off as nannyish at best, Big-Brotherish at worst, to act like people aren't qualified to/should be discouraged from trying to figure out what's wrong with their own fucking bodies under any circumstances.

It's also creepy in general, when people go beyond just stating that others don't know what they're talking about on certain topics, which is well and good, to actively trying to restrict those others from even being allowed to discuss those topics.

Frankly, people in general should know more about how their bodies work and people in general should know more about how the law works. People should know more about a lot of things that they've grown used to handing over to others. Non-professionals shouldn't give medical or legal advice, or practice law or medicine. However I completely don't buy into the idea that you're not allowed to wonder about, talk about, learn about, or even freakin opine about those subjects unless you have a degree. You don't have to have any formal training to know something about any given subject under the sun.

The instinct to protect people is understandable but it comes down to what serazin said upthread. Whether or not you believe informed adults should be allowed to hear discussion of a topic by people that they know are not professionals and could very well be dead wrong, even when the stakes are really high. Or whether you believe informed adults simply shouldn't be allowed to hear things like that.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:16 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still don't get how I as an informed, educated adult, can possibly be harming metafilter by asking for legal or medical advice here.

That's what I always said, until Optimus Chyme removed my kidneys. And I still ended up having to pay that fucking parking ticket.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:31 AM on February 24, 2010


Yeah, but on the bright side I have two spare kidneys!
posted by cjorgensen at 4:58 AM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Who cares what they do?

Jesus. Just stay away from AskMe, OK? You have a truly bizarre and unhelpful perspective.
posted by languagehat at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2010


...which seems surprising for a social worker.
posted by applemeat at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2010


So, in short, any time someone on AskMe advises someone on their legal rights, they run the risk of engaging in the unlicensed practice of law.

I can easily imagine someone being tried and convicted for offering legal advice in exchange for something, directly or indirectly.

I can easily imagine someone being tried and convicted with no connection to commerce who held themselves out as an attorney, or dodged the question of whether they were a licensed attorney, or who in any way hid the fact that they were not a licensed attorney.

I could even imagine someone being tried and convicted with no connection to commerce who was part of an organization that seemed clearly designed to circumvent that California licensing requirements (some sort of pro-bono advice organization).

But I still cannot imagine even the current Court allowing California or any other state to punish one citizen for speaking to another about the law, in the absence of any connection to commerce at all, in the absence of any pretense whatsoever at being a licensed attorney, and in the absence of any connection to an organization intended to circumvent licensing requirements. Allowing this would criminalize vast reams of political speech, since much political speech involves explaining how a proposed or actual law affects or would affect the person you're talking to. Hell, if there weren't a federalism concern intervening, it would mean that people working at USCIS or IRS helplines in California would be at risk for prosecution by the state.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow this again, seriously?
posted by cj_ at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2010


I see - so screw what the person specifically is excluding, [...]

If you carefully read the post referred to, you'll see that they did not pre-emptively exclude any specific advice; they only stated that they would prefer to avoid the expense of hiring a lawyer. Moreover, if one is honestly asking for advice or information, one should be prepared to receive advice or information different from one's hopes.

Thanks for the insult.

That was not my intent; I'm sorry you took it that way. And, as tempting as it now is to craft an artful insult such as Judge Roy Bean's apology, I think I'll stick with my original intent, so:

I don't see how any(eight-grade+) literate persone can think the above is equivalent [...]
There. Fixed enough.

Given the choice to delete either the answers after Jessamyn's entry into the thread, or the "go get a lawyer" repeats before it, I'm guessing the OP would choose to keep the later answers. What do you think?

The evidence -- what they've marked as "best answer" is before the MetaTalk link -- suggests the former. (I concede that the marked answer does not explicitly state "get a lawyer", but it does seem implicit, given that it is the context of emphatic and universal advice to GaL, and that the phrase is also used in the link.) But what I think is that you've presented something of a false choice. Returning to the topic of GaL pileones in AskMe:

I think most of us consider self-reliance to be a Good Thing, and fully understand the need to be frugal, especially these days. But when the stakes are high, and the potential for disaster significant, one should make one's best effort, and sometimes that means hiring someone trained in the area, with access to and familiarity with the appropriate tools.

When the GaL chorus rises, it's not because people are trying to increase litigation, and it's not because they want to reduce self-agency. It's usually because the poster has indicated that they intend to avoid trained services in a situation where the stakes are high and the potential for disaster significant, and the responders are trying to persuade them that using trained services really is the only prudent course of action.

Here's another Askme where the poster did not want to employ a lawyer, and the resounding chorus was to GaL. Because the poster was more engaged in the thread, and the sense of time-urgency less, the GaL "pileon" included more explanation. The reason I point to it is because I think it illustrates my previous point: The people saying GaL are making a sincere effort to give the best advice they can, given the time-constraints of the question.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 2:15 PM on February 24, 2010


the people who ARE lawyers on the site cannot give legal advice anyway

They can, and they have. Usually the legal advice is accompanied by a disclaimer saying that it is not legal advice.
posted by exogenous at 4:53 PM on February 24, 2010


The people saying GaL are making a sincere effort to give the best advice they can, given the time-constraints of the question.

I guess. I think if someone specifically says they don't want "x" and you give them "x", that's not answering the question. It's like asking how to fix a computer problem without wiping and reinstalling, and getting a chorus of "nuke it from orbit" answers. That's nice and all, but if someone specifically says that's not what they want, why turn AskMe into ParentMe?

Note that if the poster had not specifically said 'yeah yeah get a lawyer, I know' in the opening sentences of their question, I wouldn't care. But since this seems to be some deep seated repeated discussion, whatever. Seems to make AskMe useless on this front, but maybe driving away law question traffic will ultimately be helpful. I think more than that I just hate it with a passion in most cases when people read and understand someone's query but then still go against what the person's explicit request like they're the person's parent. I get that sometimes people do it with good intentions, but most of the time it's just people not respecting what was asked. Eh. Anyway.
posted by cashman at 7:05 PM on February 24, 2010


What is the point in allowing legal questions when the only reasonable answer is going to be "get a lawyer"?

I think the only legal questions that should be allowed are hypotheticals and "how do I find a lawyer?"
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 PM on February 24, 2010


AND here is what I know/have experienced with this that may increase your knowlege base" is something that happens a lot on legal, medical, and other "professional" questions here, and is not inappropriate.

It is totally inappropriate. Listen, I don't post questions on how to perform brain surgery, do I?

It usually is harder than brain surgery, because at least there you have general human anatomy. In the US at least, there are 50 states, with widely varying differences. I don't know how many times to say it--DON'T SOLICIT LEGAL ADVICE ON THE WEB. If you are not a legal professional, you are not qualified to give advice on legal matters. You are as likely to hurt as to help. I have seen some of the stupidest, stupidest advice given out here on this site. It is a real problem. One that I fear will bite the site in the ass one day.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:50 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think more than that I just hate it with a passion in most cases when people read and understand someone's query but then still go against what the person's explicit request like they're the person's parent.

I read and understand the query, but there is no answer other than get a lawyer which is appropriate. You cannot figure out a person's legal situation from what they write in the question. Very often they don't even understand the fine factual distinctions in what they are saying and end up giving false or incorrect information about their own situation. some try to shade the truth like they would in a non-legal situation. That's the worst thing you can do. The lawyer needs a whole bunch of specific facts which the questioners don't know. Then people answer the shaded question and get it wrong. One time a guy told a family in a probate dispute to sell the property and distribute it evenly amongst themselves. He literally fucking advised the questioners to commit a felony with several years minimum sentence. And people wonder why we say "get a lawyer!"
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 PM on February 24, 2010


I think the only legal questions that should be allowed are hypotheticals and "how do I find a lawyer?"

Please, sir, shower us dirty morlocks with your hard-won eloi wisdom some more! All hail the legal philosopher-kings!
posted by Justinian at 11:18 PM on February 24, 2010


Listen, I don't post questions on how to perform brain surgery, do I? It usually is harder than brain surgery,..

Ironmouth, I frequently enjoy and look forward to your comments, and I appreciate your efforts keeping airborne pathogens and unauthorized cotton balls out of our nobel profession's surgical theatre, as it were. But this gulpy analogy comes off like something a 2L says on the phone to impress grandpa and I don't see distracting hyperbole helping this cause. Somebody asking whether it's okay to write and perform a play based on a particular book, or whether he has to pay his old parking tickets before he can renew a driver's license in Wisconsin, or what she can do if she feels she might have been been ripped off on her new washer and dryer is not the life or death matter your zero tolerance AskMe policy would make it, and I've seen plenty of decent and useful advice on the green, including, but not limited to, Get A Lawyer.
posted by applemeat at 6:29 AM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a painful level of arrogance and caste-protection. The idea that there is no appropriate answer to a legal issue other than "get a lawyer" not only ignores the multitude of examples like what applemeat listed, but also shows a sneering contempt for an informed consumer.

I can only imagine what delights folks who think this way must be when confronted with a customer who wants to understand and participate in their own treatment/defense.
posted by phearlez at 8:42 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm interested to see how this goes. No comments yet.
posted by cashman at 8:16 AM on March 5, 2010


Wow, what a painful level of arrogance and caste-protection. The idea that there is no appropriate answer to a legal issue other than "get a lawyer" not only ignores the multitude of examples like what applemeat listed, but also shows a sneering contempt for an informed consumer.

I can truly understand why people feel this way. Because in a sense, we are saying "we know something you don't" and that can feel like someone is looking down. But the problem is we know some things you don't. I know that can be frustrating and that it can be galling to hear that. It sucks. But it is true.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen plenty of decent and useful advice on the green, including, but not limited to, Get A Lawyer.

I've seen plenty of good advice too. The problem isn't the good advice. Its the bad advice.

Now, I am a cleaner upper of other people's legal problems--I do litigation and I see the bad cases that are going to get to a hearing. So I may be more cautious than others. I do know that I have to check the Code of Professional Responsibility a lot more than some, just because of my little corner of it all. But my job is to try and avoid the worst case scenarios, so I urge caution a lot more.

The problem isn't all with the answers either. Often it is the questioners, who shade the truth their way, who do what everyone does, without knowing that this is a bad thing and could get them into trouble.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2010


But the problem is we know some things you don't. I know that can be frustrating and that it can be galling to hear that. It sucks. But it is true.

It is not that you know things that others do not that is offensive. It is your assertion that others are incapable of understanding an outline of those things that is offensive. And that assertion that nobody is capable of understanding the outlines of that knowledge? That's not an appearance of looking down, it IS looking down.

This is a condition common in a lot of fields, but it's particularly offensive when its embraced by people who perform services for people. Its a big reason people distrust mechanics who are incapable or unwilling to explain generally what they're doing. It's particularly galling when doctors and lawyers do it, given how high the stakes are when they are involved.
posted by phearlez at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2010


Some of the relevant issue is what that "outline" does or does not include. The absence of a nitpicky, tiny, seemingly irrelevant fact can make an enormous amount of difference. Unfortunately, in the presentation of what may be intended as a good faith, helpful outline, those utterly important small facts might me misconstrued, omitted, etc. And those who give the outlines might not even know they are omitting anything. This is of course not always the case in every single scenario, but there are a lot of areas where the "gist" of things is not helpful.
posted by bunnycup at 1:46 PM on March 5, 2010


It is your assertion that others are incapable of understanding an outline of those things that is offensive. And that assertion that nobody is capable of understanding the outlines of that knowledge? That's not an appearance of looking down, it IS looking down.

But the law doesn't work on an outline. This is what we are trying to say. It isn't that you can't understand the outline. It's that an outline is not enough in this field. That's why the generalist advice is no good. You need to be specific. Otherwise, you are liable to make mistakes and not even know it.

You can go straight to the code sections applicable and read them and gee, it all makes sense. Except for the fact that you need to check four other code sections you didn't know anything about, such as the general statute of limitations, any other specific statute of limitations, and the definitions section at the beginning of the subchapter too. And the lay person (and many lawyers) don't even know about those things. Know anything about jursidiction? Venue? The rules of evidence for the jurisdiction in question? The exceptions to those rules? No you do not. I don't even know them for my own jurisdiction. It takes me an hour of research after talking to a client just to get a hold on what the issues are in a case that I'm getting paid for. You can't figure it out from a simple three paragraph question. And we are not even getting into the court decisions that interpret these statutes.

The problem in the end is as much about being able to ask the right questions of the person with the problem, which you often cannot ask in AskMe. You cannot have the back and forth that you need, you can't read the documents, you can't even be sure of what state is the one we need to talk about.

And the problem with the law is that mistakes are often fatal. You can't go back and fix them the way you can in other situations.

I do this for a living. I don't know a damn thing about Ruby on Rails and I would never answer a question on it. Do you see people just making shit up in the Ruby on Rails threads? No. But everyone thinks they are a damn lawyer because they can read. But the stakes are high. These are real people with real problems whose lives you may be fucking up with the best of intentions. And you cannot control what the asker will do with the information.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:08 PM on March 5, 2010


Ironmouth - careful with the "we." Not all lawyers on the site agree with your perspective on this issue.
posted by Mid at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do you see people just making shit up in the Ruby on Rails threads? No.

Since you just said you don't know anything about it, how do you know?

People make up stuff all the time in technical threads.
posted by GuyZero at 3:16 PM on March 5, 2010


Give me a break, Ironmouth.

You're talking as if any answer other than "get a lawyer" is an incitement for people to go file their own suits. That's just ridiculous and not in line with the answers that typically show up in these questions.

Instead people often point out potential pitfalls, the differences in laws from region to region, mention some issues they've had in the past and generally help askers become better, informed customers.

I don't know why this seems to so completely get your knickers in a twist, but some of us believe in the ability of people to do some of their own advanced research and make better decisions with the help of their imperfect outlines. If you think there's no point in anything between total ignorance and mastery... I'm just grateful not everyone agrees with you.
posted by phearlez at 5:19 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you see people just making shit up in the Ruby on Rails threads? No.

Actually, the logic of your arguments here would seem to be, not just that you shouldn't make shit up in Ruby on Rails threads, but that the only answer permitted in Ruby on Rails threads on AskMe ought to be "Please consult a Ruby on Rails specialist immediately." Do you begin to see the problem?

(And it's not a good response to say that the law is a "matter of life and death" whereas Ruby on Rails is not. Legal cases can be minor, and technical fuckups can cost people their livelihoods.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:46 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would think that often, an error in computer programming (which is what I assume Ruby on Rails to relate to) can be fixed by revising the code. Often, a legal mistake cannot be fixed once realized. Neither of my statements are absolutes, of course, so I recognize you might be able to proffer multiple suggestions "disproving" each. Certainly there are situations in which a failure to meet a statute of limitations may be cured, or an admission of liability retracted, or an unwisely-made contract rescinded. However, there are vastly more situations where these items cannot be cured, retracted, rescinded or otherwise corrected after the fact.
posted by bunnycup at 5:13 PM on March 9, 2010


In my experience bunnycup, life is full to overflowing with "items" that cannot be cured, retracted, rescinded or otherwise corrected after the fact.

I accept that reality, and take it into account when conducting my affairs, including when deciding who I want to ask for advice in any given situation or about any specific topic.

Just because I make some choices that others may believe to be dangerous doesn't mean I'm stupid. It means I'm different from them. And I don't want to be protected from myself here on metafilter or anywhere, really.
posted by serazin at 5:46 PM on March 9, 2010


No one suggested you were stupid. The idea that law is complex, full of traps and pitfalls and holes, doesn't at all indicate someone who doesn't know them is stupid. I'm sorry you feel that it did imply you were stupid. I for one am no engineer, and am sure I would make mistakes in attempting to design a house to code (as one "item"...why are we using scare quotes?). No shame in that, my friend.

I'm not sure what you mean with the "different" versus "stupid" thing or how it's relevant. I never called you stupid. I don't care if you're a different, special, wonderful snowflake. Because what's wrong is wrong no matter how unique you are, you know? Embrace that, celebrate it - but it doesn't waive a statute of limitations. There are thousands of Metafilter members here other than you, and while I'm loving on your acceptance of the flaws, pitfalls and problems in our sadly real world, not everyone has your infallible ability to distinguish and ignore the bad advice.

Put differently, I'm absolutely on board with the idea that we can't prevent people from giving bad advice and it would be foolish to try (short of deletion, banning, which I'm certainly not advocating). Professional legal organizations can't even manage to do it. So I think even non-lawyer Mefites can talk about Legal Subjects, but we need to be conscious, mindful and aware of our tone, words and the impressions we leave when we do so. Frankly, a realtor who flips a lot of houses is going to know more and give better answers on that subject than I will. Someone who has been arrested a whole lot in Pennsylvania can probably tell you more about the PA criminal process than I can. No shame in that, but clarity becomes important.
posted by bunnycup at 7:33 PM on March 9, 2010


Fair enough. And to be fair to you bunnycup - I don't feel you called me stupid. I do feel that the desire to remove legal and medical questions from askme - or require that all answers refer to professionals - is paternalistic in the extreme. Being patronized leaves me with the feeling that the patronizer believes me to be stupid, which is what I'm responding to in this thread.
posted by serazin at 8:27 PM on March 9, 2010


So, there are subjects in the world that are best addressed by experts. Law, medicine, electrical work, and financial matters all come to mind, among many others. All of these fields have specialized knowledge that one learns only through study and experience. Without that specialized knowledge, these areas are full of pitfalls and dangers - even some irreversible dangers, like electrocution, losing one's savings, etc.

So -- what is to be done about that? Aside from the type of heightened awareness of problems in these types of areas, as bunnycup advocates, I think there is nothing to be done. We've identified an inherent problem in AskMe. But there is no way to correct the problem short of shutting down AskMe.
posted by Mid at 8:10 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


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