A few thoughts on the "no legal advice" rule

I know this is a long-standing rule, but the recent stickeyization has me thinking about it. I think insta-locking the threads of those seeking legal advice is a mistake.

Often people who are asking questions that a lawyer would be professionally obligated not to answer can still get helpful advice. For example, they can be told what kind of lawyer to initially seek, or linked to websites designed by organizations like legal aid to give people a basic understanding of common legal issues, or be pointed to resources for finding a lawyer. The current rule needlessly prevents useful information being given to the people who post in these threads by locking threads based on a moderator’s anticipation that someone might get inappropriate legal advice, before any advice - appropriate or not - has even been offered.

I think some minor modifications could preserve the main benefits of the rule while still permitting appropriate information or help to be given to posters. I can envision a few possible solutions that fall short of scrapping the rule altogether. For example, the scope of discussion could be limited to non-legal advice. Posters offering legal advice could be warned. That involves some moderator discretion, but no more than is already required to determine when someone is seeking legal advice in the first place. There are probably some other minors fixes that would make the rule better.

This addresses some of your questions

Could you expand on that for me? I’m not seeing what parts of that thread address what I’ve said.

Posts #12 and 22 describe some risks to the asker, as well as possible issues for answerers re: unauthorized practice of law.

You seem to be under the impression that I think the rule is useless. I don’t think that. I think it can be modified so as to capture the same benefits it current does, without preventing helpful advice from being offered.

I am not a lawyer (;)), but I can explain a couple of the concerns:

  1. Should the situation being discussed lead to litigation, all of the discussion of it on this board becomes discoverable, which would potentially not be a good thing for the person asking advice. It’s all public discussion, as opposed to private conversations with a lawyer that are covered under attorney-client privilege. As an example, imagine someone plastering the Dope with details of an upcoming divorce and having his spouse (or his spouse’s lawyer) find it all.

  2. It’s easy for someone to ask a legal question here, read through the responses, and draw a conclusion–a potentially wrong conclusion–because none of the responses came from adequately informed experts in his jurisdiction. Forget liability for a moment. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for someone taking the wrong action because he thought he was getting valid advice.

A problem not made any better by locking the thread. Indeed, informing the poster about the negative consequences of posting litigation-related facts is the kind of useful advice that can be offered in these threads if they are not locked.

And I think that’s a fine, albeit paternalistic and selectively applied, rule. I think you can just as easily enforce a rule against giving legal advice and not lock the thread as you can instantly lock threads that appear to solicit such advice. I don’t see what you lose by following the approach I’m suggesting.

Definitely paternalistic. Since most legal advice asked for isn’t about criminal issues, I don’t get the reflexive banning of the discussion. If a poster gets bad legal advice about his divorce and he follows it blindly, maybe he loses the house. If he gets bad business advice and follows it blindly, maybe he ends up losing his house.

Maybe the rule should be confined to restricting giving criminal law advice.

My thought on this issue is that the same information would be discoverable if the poster came on board and discussed marital problems they were having or discussed an affair that they had.

I agree with this. Whether the rule is a good one or not, this justification doesn’t make much sense.

And there have been several threads where people have said, “What are you doing disclosing all this stuff here? You’re not nearly as anonymous as you think.”

It’s easy to assume that nobody knows DoperDude102 is really John Q. Citizen from Miami, but when John Q.'s wife finds the SDMB in his browser cache or her lawyer does a Google search on a few details of the divorce, things can get messy–and the Chicago Reader doesn’t really appreciate subpoenas.

On the related ‘no medical advice’ issue, I’ve had some great advice for what to ask doctors treating my aunt, and I’d like to see that distinction made and applied to legal threads as well. But if the Dope decides that it is not to be, I can respect that decision.

I don’t think anyone has an objection to posts like, “I’m going to see a lawyer/doctor/other professional about an accident/divorce/gnarly toenail. What kind of questions should I ask?”

Similarly, we’ve had threads before about how to select a good doctor or attorney. That kind of “meta-advice” is perfectly appropriate.

So why not enforce a rule against giving advice instead of locking threads that to the moderator’s eye appear to solicit it? You get most of the benefits of the current rule and none of the drawbacks.