I am not a lawyer but here is my advice.... August 15, 2005 7:46 PM   Subscribe

This thread has me wondering: when does discussing the law on a forum like AskMe cross over to giving legal advice? Obviously, any lawyer's first answer is going to be "talk to a lawyer." But then what? (A very similar professional ethics problem for doctors has been discussed here before.) My legal ethics class was fantastic, but we talked more about Enron than the internet.
posted by footnote to Etiquette/Policy at 7:46 PM (18 comments total)

Looks like not a single lawyer has yet responded in that thread, while the most useful advice so far has been for LadyBonita to get a free consultation with a lawyer. Seems like a non-issue.
posted by mediareport at 7:57 PM on August 15, 2005

(To clarify, mediareport, I'm not calling out anyone in particular, just wondering about the parameters.)
posted by footnote at 8:07 PM on August 15, 2005

The monju_bosatsu's link from that thread is more about lawyers than doctors, if I remember correctly.

I thought the discussion in that thread covered the ethical obligations of all professionals very thoroughly. However, I think it is worth adding that as nice as the 'please keep posting, it is so helpful' comments are, they have no bearing on the ethical questions involved.
posted by Chuckles at 8:08 PM on August 15, 2005

footnote, I just think the issue's been covered here as much as it can possibly be covered here. Don't take life-and-death/legal advice from strangers on the net too seriously, but do recognize that a variety of folks with similar experiences, professional or not, can be helpful. What else is there to say?

(And yes, my dislike of 'jes wondrin' questions is playing a part here)
posted by mediareport at 8:27 PM on August 15, 2005

I think it is worth adding that as nice as the 'please keep posting, it is so helpful' comments are, they have no bearing on the ethical questions involved.

Actually if those comments are any measure of how helpful such responses have truly been, they are quite pertinent to the ethical questions involved.
posted by drpynchon at 8:46 PM on August 15, 2005

drpynchon, there are far too many ways that comment could be interpreted, I think you should be more specific.
posted by Chuckles at 8:55 PM on August 15, 2005

I think DrPynchon is saying this: the more specifically helpful the post, the closer it is to legal or medical advice. That's a good rule of thumb, actually.
posted by footnote at 9:14 PM on August 15, 2005

Helping, good. Hurting, bad.

If answers from professionals on AskMe are helpful, as they are proclaimed to be, then it's a good thing. I'm a simple man, and I try to keep my ethics as such.
posted by drpynchon at 9:31 PM on August 15, 2005

FYI, a lawyer has chimed in on the Wal-Mart thread.
posted by agropyron at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2005

And said, "Get a free consult."
posted by mediareport at 10:04 PM on August 15, 2005

Along with some other interesting and helpful stuff.
posted by agropyron at 10:12 PM on August 15, 2005

If you take the Bar Association rules seriously, non-lawyers are more free to speculate about the law than lawyers are to make suggestions based on it.

It's difficult to offer advice on the law without offering legal advice. Difficult and probably dangerous, among friends or family who are not likely to sue or file a complaint, nevermind virtual strangers.
posted by dreamsign at 10:21 PM on August 15, 2005

IANAL is not a play on "anus."
posted by scarabic at 10:30 PM on August 15, 2005

As I said in the previous thread, I don't mind discussing legal principles in the abstract, but always with a disclaimer that I don't purport to apply the law to any specific set of facts, and that the questioner should seek counsel from his or her own lawyer. I don't really think this question is that hard, as long as you have a little common sense and a healthy respect for your ethical boundaries. If you're more interested in this, I encourage you to read the article I linked in the comment Chuckles pointed out and follow up with the other articles it cites.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:36 PM on August 15, 2005

I have declined to answer in two askme threads for this very reason. I wish I could just post "talk to a lawyer" but I'd feel compelled to look at the facts to show why "talk to a lawyer" is not just a self-serving comment and is based on the real value that lawyers can bring to complex problems. But that would be perilously close to practicing law.
posted by socratic at 10:38 PM on August 15, 2005

I took one look at that Walmart thread, monju_bosatsu, and stayed far away.

I've seen legislative counsel sit back while clients rant about problems that could be easily explained, only because legal counsel (same qualifications, same employer, different mandate) were not in the room to do so.

And providing more specifics may actually make things worse. Ask about general legal principle? Simply imparting knowledge. Ask about legal principle in light of suit you intend to bring? Tantamount to legal advice. It's all context, and it's dangerous enough when your client, sitting next to you in a chair, doesn't tell you everything, nevermind somebody sitting across the country or in another.
posted by dreamsign at 1:04 AM on August 16, 2005

Now, if I'm not mistaken the only way you could actualy get in trouble if the person you advised took your advice, and then sued you for legal malpractice, no? Or are there other problems?
posted by delmoi at 7:40 AM on August 16, 2005

Delmoi - a lawyer could be subject to disciplinary sanctions by the state bar, regardless of whether the client sued. Most (if not all) states also require lawyers to report on other lawyers who seriously violate disciplinary rules.

Thanks for the comments, dreamsign, monju_b, and socratic. I did read the article on "cyberadvice," but I didn't find it that helpful in way of concrete guidelines. It's good to know what MeFi lawyers have thought about specific posts.
posted by footnote at 9:27 AM on August 16, 2005

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