We've had numerous discussions about legal questions. Our latest attempt at resolving the issue was to add a post notice to warn users of the dangers of looking for legal advice online, but Stack Exchange rejected the idea. So it looks like we're back at the drawing board.

I think, since there is some debate about legal questions, that we should decide once and for all whether:

  1. we want to allow legal questions on the site.
  2. If we want legal questions, what restrictions should be place on them.

If we're going to allow legal questions, then some restrictions have been proposed:

  • Make the answerer specify what location their advice applies to (because laws differ from country to country).
  • Posting a comment warning people about asking legal questions online instead of consulting a lawyer.
  • Having the answerer state that the answer doesn't constitute legal advice.
  • Making sure that the question isn't too specific, in which case they should consult a lawyer.

Do we as a community need any restrictions on legal questions?

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#3 isn't necessarily true. Even if the answerer is a lawyer, though, what you're really after here is a statement that the information does not constitute legal advice, etc. ("I may be a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer.") See any of those links for what this generally covers and ideas on overall phrasing. –  Su' Sep 28 '12 at 2:14
    
Do we really need to explain that advice found on the internet is not 100% legitimate legal advice? –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 1 '12 at 12:21
    
Did the moderators come to some kind of solution to this problem? the reason I ask is this weekend we have had like 5 legal based questions (Copyright, Infringement and so forth). Do we flag them, answer them or maybe we could throw up a wiki page that is so board every question they ask is duplicate but least with a wiki page they have advice where to go get the 'CORRECT ADVICE' from professionals in this field (Not talking websites, more like citizens advice bureau and government sites. –  bybe Mar 11 '13 at 16:39

2 Answers 2

Anna's response covers the primary concerns (as I see them) for these questions, so let's weigh the options:

It looks like you are trying to protect yourselves from possible liability in case someone comes in, takes legal advice at face value, and then wants to sue the poster. That ... admittedly could happen, but unfortunately a post notice won't protect you if someone's really keen on going after you.

. . .

[T]he best we can do here is either help them out by answering or by directing them to a real lawyer, whichever happens to be most reasonable in their situation.

- Anna Lear in response to Proposed Post Notice/Catch All: How do I ensure my website is operating within the law?

The worst that can come from answering legal questions: an answer to a legal question results in the asker taking the advice, getting into legal trouble, and turning around and coming after the answerer (who may have forgotten to mention that his or her answer wasn't actually legal advice) to pass the buck.

The best that can come from answering legal questions: subjective answers which do not constitute legal advice or referral to a lawyer for qualified legal advice.

Questions and answers concerning the legality of a given behavior, even though they may be of interest to webmasters, are in the same class as "please review my website" (in this case "please review my practices") and answering them with anything beyond "talk to a lawyer" will, at best, lead to a discussion and, at worst, create the potential for confusion and liability for answerers.

Questions concerning legal recourse available in a given situation and questions concerning the existence of laws and regulations would require exhaustive listings (and regular updates) and should probably be closed with advice to seek legal counsel.

Let's leave the discussion of legal issues to lawyers and dedicated discussion forums - even though a familiarity with applicable laws is necessary for those running websites, legal questions generally fail to meet the "practical, answerable" criteria if the answer is anything other than "talk to a lawyer".

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Here's an alternative view. In some situations those who make the laws want you to keep to them so provide guidance. I'm thinking here of the EU laws about cookies. If an answer to a question about cookies in the EU results in an answer linking to a document provided by the people who enforce the law, then I think we're on safe ground.

It's for that reason I wouldn't want to discourage all legal questions.

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Do you think it would be acceptable for that answer to provide a summery? –  Christofian Sep 28 '12 at 20:47
    
Yes. Though with legal questions it's probably important to say, "go and read the original documents". –  paulmorriss Oct 1 '12 at 8:05

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