So why not personal legal and medical advice?

Posted this here because it seems different from the general factual questions asked in GQ. Seems more like a site question to me. From the GQ rules:

*7. No homework questions or requests for legal or medical advice
We won’t help with your homework, and you can’t get reliable legal or medical advice here, either. Threads asking legal and medical questions about legal or medical issues are fine–questions asking about your own case or seeking diagnoses of medical symptoms are not. *

This seems odd, especially for a site that prides itself on actually having real experts and knowledgeable sources on a variety of topics.

A couple of WAG’s:

  1. People are afraid of harming others through misguided or erroneous legal/medical advice, to the point that even possibly helpful advice is not allowed on the chance that it might hurt.

  2. People don’t want others getting hurt as a result of fake legal/medical advice from people pretending to be experts.

  3. The site’s operators don’t want to be liable.

  4. People don’t want to help others or have this site turn into a self-help site; they prefer the current format and its annoying when all people do is make help topics.

  5. Cecil doesn’t want free legal/medical advice to be given out before he finds out a way to profit from it :smiley:

Or maybe its something completely different. :confused:

I’m not sure for doctors (though my inclincation is that it’s the same as lawyers), but for lawyers, giving any sort of personal advice creates an attorney-client relationship which puts the lawyer on the hook for malpractice. So the rule is basically a “don’t ask, because they won’t/shouldn’t answer.”

Out of the other reasons you listed, I’d say it’s a good dose of #2 as well.

One problem is that it is very difficult to diagnose a medical condition or solve a legal problem over teh intarwebz. The person seeking advice does not know which details are relevant, and the person giving the advice does not know which details were omitted. Bad results ensue.

There are ethical and legal issues for both professions in doing anything which might set up a professional-client relationship, and there are also legal issues for people who do not belong to those professions in holding themselves out as qualified to give medical or legal advice. So we can talk about general issues, but we can’t ever set ourselves up as giving legal or medical advice in specific real-life situations.

I’m not a medico or a lawyer, but I know enough about both professions to know that often the devil is in the details, so that to give good advice you need to get extra information out of the client – things which the client doesn’t think are relevant, but which the professional knows are important to giving the right advice.

Maybe Law and Order’s been lying to me, but I was under the impression that giving out personal legal advice, as opposed to officially acting as someone’s lawyer, does not result in an attorney-client relationship. Like if my buddy Bob tells me that I should say this and do this in a trial I’m involved in, that doesn’t make him my lawyer.

Even on a message board? If I simply post a message and say I’m a lawyer and give out advice, I’m violating ethical rules and can be prosecuted? I thought the internet was less regulated than that.

It’s got nothing to do with regulation of the Internet. It’s about what the laws and regulations about the practice of law (or medicine) are. These will vary from place to place, and what’s acceptable in one jurisdiction might be unethical in another. The Chicago Reader is probably being a little over-cautious in its rule, but it does need a rule against giving personal legal and medical advice, and the rule needs to be simple rather than over nuanced.

Don’t believe what you see on Law and Order.

It is my professional opinion that this belongs in ATMB (About This Message Board).

twickster, MPSIMS moderator
To answer your question:

Short version: Too many ways for things to go seriously wrong.

Law and medicine are two fields of specialized knowledge where the specific details of a particular case can make a huge difference to the answer.

  1. On an anonymous message board, there is no way to guarantee the expertise of anyone who provides an answer.

  2. Of course, because this is a community, we have come to know that there are some members who are knowledgeable and helpful doctors or lawyers. These people refrain from answering specific questions because they know that the person posting a question may or may not include all relevant info.

Pretty much the first piece of legal advice I’d give to anyone that asked for it online would be:

Don’t post any damn thing about a pending legal matter in a public forum, dumbass.

The mods don’t like it when people call other people dumbass in GQ.

Also, if there were sanctioned “Free Legal/Medical Advice” threads here, I suspect you’d find not many professionals participating, for the reasons others have mentioned. Then you’d hear endless whining about how lawyers and doctors are bad people because they won’t give away their only stock in trade for free, on demand, and quickly, too, dammit.

I seem to recall in the early years of the Board there was one poster who was happy to provide medical diagnoses and suggested treatments. There were two problems:

  1. Said poster was not a licensed physician, or even a medical student; and

  2. Said poster’s diagnoses and recommendations were frequently strongly disagreed with by actual medical professionals on the board, resulting in a lot of threads that went nowhere.

What others have said, plus:

It seems unethical to me, in a broad philosophical sense, for a specific medical or legal case to be commented on by professionals not directly involved in the cases. How can a doctor know the particulars of a case without the ability to review charts and medical records, including CAT scans, medications, prior treatments, and all the details that a treating physician would be privvy to? Same same for a lawyer. How can he know what advice to give without knowing the evidence, the trial transcripts, the police interviews, and more?

General advice is often given. So if someone asks, “What are modern treatments for COPD?” a doctor might respond. But if someone asks, “What should I do about my emphysema?”, the only reasonable answer is, “See your doctor.”

Yes, providing legal or medical advice may cause legal or medical professionals to face malpractice liability and/or professional discipline. I’ve made a couple of recent postsabout some of the legal ethical issues of posting legal information on the internet (in a couple of train-wreckish threads that discussed the issue of what is legal advice and what constitutes retention of an attorney at some length).

However, the problem is not really that lawyers or doctors may have a malpractice or disciplinary authority problem with the posts they may make here. It isn’t the message board’s problem if I, as a lawyer, face a malpractice suit or disbarment because of something I post here. And most of the legal and medical professionals that post here are, in my experience, quite good about posting in ways that avoid professional ethics problems.

The real problem is the posting of legal and medical advice by non-professionals. Though we have some wonderfully competent and experienced lay people who can give great comments on these subjects, we also have quite a few people who post spectacularly, highly dangerously, recklessly incorrect advice.

There are some posts that have been here that, if followed, would get people killed or arrested or in serious debt. Things that make me say “Holy Shit! That’s screwed up!” and immediately report the post and post warning in the thread not to follow the advice.

A related problem is that when clueless posters post wrong advice, they inevitably do so as straightforward and direct advice: “You should file THIS document”, “You take THIS medicine,” etc. Competent professionals will virtually always couch their advice in a nuanced way because situations, particularly those presented anonymously on the internet, are rarely straightforward. About the only direct and unconditional advice I give is: “You should consult an attorney in in your jurisdiction who practices that area of law.”

Although I’m not sure how much liability the board faces because of this bad advice, it is plainly irresponsible to provide a forum to allow such bad advice to be circulated.

It used to be perfectly acceptable to discuss medical issues. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it. The threads were chockfull of 'IANAD’s and 'Go to a doctor NOW’s and other disclaimers, and Dopers were free to discuss similar situations they had and other things. We pride ourselves on being an intelligent community, so people discussed medical issues in an intelligent manner.

Except one, now-long-banned, poster. His medical advice (and he was not a doctor) was often or usually wrong. It got to the point he was forbidden to post on medical issues. When he did, after being told not to, he was banned. It wasn’t long after that that we were forbidden to discuss personal medical issues. ‘How do I get rid of this headache?’ ‘Medical advice. Thread closed.’

The owners of the SDMB are very scared of being sued. They’ve made it clear that if the board is ever sued in a case that looks like it could actually go to trial, they’re shutting the board down. They have no reason to keep the board active if there’s any chance that they will lose a substantial amount of money on it. The board is at best only a slight money-maker. Any substantial award in a civil suit would more than wipe out all money ever made by the board. It is easy to imagine someone suing about bad advice for a medical or legal matter.

I thought message boards were, in general, indemnified from their contents.

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that this is true (and it may or may not be in light of the fact that CL claims an irrevocable right to the content posted here by members) they would still need to pay a competent attorney a fair amount of money to put forward this defense.

And while we’re at it, why is this thread still open? It’s not because of the usual “it was not reported and a mod did not see it” excuse-- the thread was reported a few days ago.

Well, actually, medical advice threads are allowed to stay open. Ask gfactor about this thread. I just started working at a gynecologist’s office and one of the first things I learned was that dysfunctional uterine bleeding can be a serious problem by itself, and a symptom of a very serious disease, such as cancer. I can easily imagine a situation in the future where an OP comes back (hopefully not that OP because I like her) and announces a condition which could have been diagnosed early by a doctor but instead was diagnosed incorrectly by a doper. That will be unfortunate for the mod that brushed aside legitimate concerns because of their bruised ego, or some other reason.

Basically, the secret to asking for medical advice is to preface your thread with “I’m not asking for medical advice…”.

He’re the rule:

(Emphasis added.)

Yeah, guy was asking about his own legal situation, and even asked one of the people who replied to him if they were a lawyer or not. I thought that took it from general to specific.