3

I tried to ask the same question times on here. The first two attempts were closed as "asking for specific legal advice".

I then wrote a version that was so bad it was rejected by the autofilter until I added an irrelevent link to my question on meta asking why the other two were closed.

This version was upvoted and there has been at least one reasonable attempt at answering it.

The one redeeming feature of this version is that it is very succinct. However, it clearly fails the "Search, and research" part of https://law.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask

This leads to the following hypotheses:

  1. It is better to ask a question without bothering to provide any background (or at least succinct trumps 'wise')
  2. Moderators are too quick to close questions
  3. The asking for "specific legal advice" close reason is being misused.

Those make sense to discuss in the context of making this site better.

The other hypothesis is that I am a bad writer. So feel free to advise me on how to improve. That might help me but not the site. You could also consider:

  1. Is it too hard to get a question re-opened just by editing it?

I am very stubborn. Someone else would have given up and gone to quora or somewhere else. Is that really desirable for the community?

References:

see also Excessive use of "specific legal advice" closure reason

3
  • Yes and yes a little but this is a different question. My questions usually start with the one line version, often in bold. So that Tl;Dr; people can focus on that. With the rest of it I try to show what I know or think I know so that people can correct me or fill in the gaps. Nov 21, 2022 at 21:59
  • This question is more a "am I being unreasonable? are you being unreasonable?" discuss. Nov 21, 2022 at 22:01
  • This meta is an expression of my surprise that it is so hard to get my question across clearly (or at least clearly enough to meet community standards) when I thought it was quite obvious what I was asking. Generally I find the more time I spend on a question and sometimes on a paired answer, the less receptive the community on SE is. Is not really a law specific problem. It could be a me specific problem of course. That is for others to judge. Nov 21, 2022 at 22:10

3 Answers 3

5

It’s a feature not a bug

Stack Exchange is explicitly different from other Q&A sites like Quora (fun though that site is), in that we are explicitly looking for quality, definitive answers. This is spelled out in the tour and the don’t ask help. If it doesn’t fit the model then we explicitly don’t want it here.

A question that is on-topic is a “better” question than one that is off-topic. Some questions a user wants to ask might be objectively great questions with interesting answers but if it’s off-topic, it is, by our definition, a bad question.

So, to answer your last question first:

Someone else would have given up and gone to quora or somewhere else. Is that really desirable for the community?

Yes, it is. Questions that are OK on Quora may not be OK here.

What is legal advice

Legal advice is like hard-core pornography: I know it when I see it. Also, it can be expensive and incomprehensible.

To illustrate what I mean, consider the law on this in NSW. Section 14 of the [Legal Profession Act 2004][4] prohibits “engaging in legal practice when not entitled”. It doesn’t use the phrase “legal advice” but it does use “legal practice” which is defined in Section 6:

legal services means work done, or business transacted, in the ordinary course of legal practice.

So, you are engaging in legal practice when you do the things that a legal practice does. An intentionally circular definition.

Some questions are clearly requesting someone to engage in legal practice and some clearly aren’t. However, many are in the grey zone where it might be one or the other and a judgement has to be made.

Whether a question crosses the line is an assessment of the question, the perception of the OP’s motive in asking (is it for information or because they are actually in that situation), the types of answers it might attract, the work that is needed to go into those answers, and the poster’s track record. The fact that you asked 3 almost identical questions in quick succession on the same topic is a big red flag. It suggests that you are asking not out of curiosity but because you really want to know for some reason. If that reason is that you are negotiating an employment contract and are worried about IP issues: consult a lawyer.

Questions about how to write or interpret a particular clause of a contract always fall into the grey zone. Drafting and interpreting contracts is squarely “legal practice”. Complicating this is that no one definitively knows how a particular clause applies to a particular circumstance until it is ruled on by a judge or arbitrator.

Is the “asking for legal advice” close reason being misused? While it is one of the most used reasons, use is not misuse. As I said, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Moderators are too quick to close

Maybe, but there’s no moderator involvement in any of the questions you link. The 3 questions have a total of 7 close and 2 reopen votes, none from moderators.

I’m happy to say that I’ll jump all over a question that is clearly over the line but on edge case, I, and the other mods, generally leave it up to the community.

By the way, the final paragraph of What should a contract contain to protect an employees rights to work on unrelated side projects in their free time causes me to raise an eyebrow but not enough for me to close it. The other two are fine IMO.

Is it better to provide no background?

A question needs sufficient context to be answerable but it doesn’t necessarily need background. Background is one of those flags that suggests the OP is asking for legal advice.

Legal questions that are not about process are almost exclusively of the form “how does the law apply to these facts?” Context is what tells us the legal issue and the (assumed) facts. Questions on this site should be succinct and have one answer; too much “background” almost invariably throws up several legal issues and muddles the facts. Untangling background to tease out the issues and the facts start to look like legal practice. Unless the background is clearly hypothetical.

Some questions are too brief, some questions are too verbose. We want questions in the Goldilocks zone but how long that zone depends on the question. As a guide, err on the side of brevity: users will usually ask for more information while they might pass over excessively long questions – good writing understands human psychology.

Are you a bad writer?

Well, that’s really a question for your literary agent.

Looking at your questions, they are coherent English and have the punctuation in all the right spots so you pass my Writing 101. You’ve even used headings which I love.

What your longer questions do is illustrate what I see as an X-Y problem. You’re assuming that the law says something which I’m not sure is entirely correct and then asking a question about how to redress this possibly non-existent problem in a contract. Perhaps a question on what the law actually says about employee IP might be worthwhile.

6
  • Asking 3 times is because I am stubborn and genuinely interested. These sort of IP clauses ought to be a solved problem by now as there are many software engineers with many side projects all over the world. I guess part of the question is - is it a "non-existent" problem? IP stuff seems to have to be proved in a court of law - something which is not for the faint hearted even if they are on the right side. Nov 23, 2022 at 1:01
  • @BruceAdams I understand but "Is this a problem?" is not the question you asked. You assumed it was and asked how to fix it. Maybe you should ask what the law is on employee IP
    – Dale M Mod
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:03
  • That is the nature of asking questions and the reason for adding background. Askers don't always know that they are asking the wrong question. A good answer tells them that. I'm not sure I know how to ask "what the law is on employee IP". I expect that if I ask it the answer I would get - assuming it doesn't get closed - will just quote the law rather than put it in context. Nov 23, 2022 at 1:11
  • @BruceAdams "What is the law on employee IP?" looks like a fine headline question. The body doesn't have to expand on it much but it seems you understand that IP created in the course of your employment belongs to the employer and other work belongs to the employee. So, do you want to know what the courts interpret "in the course of employment" to mean?
    – Dale M Mod
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:19
  • I think I've covered that in at least one of my closed questions but it appears to be subject to interpretation on a case by case basis. Part of it hinges on whether in "software development for X for your employer" vs "software development for Y on your own time" X and Y are sufficiently different and whether it is generally understood that "software development" alone is not sufficient overlap in and of itself (I would hope it is given how diverse a field that now is). Nov 23, 2022 at 8:35
  • This is I think a reasonable answer relating to that part - law.stackexchange.com/a/57511/8883 - though it relates to a specific contract rather than existing employment law. Incidentally where does that question fall in the "specific legal advice" category? Nov 23, 2022 at 9:03
4

Obviously, these are just my observations and suggestions. This is a diverse community and other users may have different preferences. This answer is mostly consistent with a previous answer about how to ask a good question.

There's a sweet spot

There is a spectrum of detail that a question could contain; the best questions hit the sweet spot, which will vary depending on the issue. I don't expect askers to be expert enough to know where that is. But when questions deviate substantially in either direction, I do notice that they tend to be less well received here. Worse is not better; succinct does not trump wise; wise leads to the sweet spot.

A spectrum of complexity

Here are some samples from across that spectrum:

Why concise is usually better?

If you have been able to present your question concisely, that in itself shows that you've done some research. You will have determined what you consider to be the relevant facts and excluded those that are not relevant to illuminating the legal issue you are curious about. Extra information will be distracting at best and at worst inadvertently constrain answers.

A helpful template

I think most questions can be asked in the following template:

  • set out the facts that you would like answerers to assume to be true for the sake of the legal analysis (if it's this kind of question)
  • ask the legal question

Sometimes that can be structured into a single sentence. But often, it's easier to read if you take a paragraph or two to set out the facts or context and then state the legal question in its own sentence.

Return on investment

I note you said in a comment:

Generally I find the more time I spend on a question and sometimes on a paired answer, the less receptive the community on SE is

To this concern, I would suggest you consider whether the time you spend on a question ends up making it longer and more complex. Or are you spending the time whittling it to its essence? You might get more benefit from the latter.

I see that you're a long-time user at stackoverflow. I understand that on that site, they appreciate a "minimal, reproducible example." That is analogous to what I would strive for here.

-2

Is worse better?

No. I for one have been waiting for your second post to get reopened, there being already four votes for that purpose. That post provides context, it is fairly self-contained, and its scope is narrower than the latest one.

Ever since someone else edited your latest post to mutilate it, the lack of context makes it harder for the audience to grasp much of your inquiry unless readers happen to be acquainted with the history that led to that post.

Of the three hypotheses you identify, 2. and 3. are the problem, although I need to qualify the second hypothesis because luckily not all LawSE moderators are fond of censorship.

Someone else would have given up and gone to quora or somewhere else. Is that really desirable for the community?

I'm glad you point that out because users who profusely vote to close posts don't seem to be mindful of that risk. They need to understand that the censorship inherent to closing posts tends to deter users from ever asking on LawSE again.

Being judicious about what posts truly warrant getting closed might make it unnecessary to figure out how we can invite, or enthrall, Quora users, something that is futile once LawSE has grown a reputation of censorship.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .