10

It seems that editors and moderators have grown increasingly aggressive in the last year or two with the votes to close questions because they "clearly ask for specific legal advice."

I have seen, for example, questions get closed because OP is asking about a legal situation they faced in the past, the legal problems of an acquaintance. In both cases, it seems a stretch to call that a request for specific legal advice, as it is literally impossible for the person making the request to implement the advice.

I've also seen questions closed where there are no real indications that their request is a request for specific legal advice, except that it's written in the first person. In these cases, I'd say it's hardly "clear" that we're dealing with a request for specific legal advice, as opposed to a hypothetical that's just written in the first person.

Today, we had what I'd call the most egregious example of this practice. A new user asked a question about legal terminology, phrased as a pure hypothetical:

Let's say a lawyer is representing a client (who is charged with breaking the law) and the client has been given a date for his arraignment. If the lawyer wants to delay the arraignment what do they do?

A moderator immediately closed the question as a clear request for specific legal advice.

I have no idea how one justifies this closure. It bears none of the hallmarks of a request for specific legal advice, and all the hallmarks of a generic inquiry, as laid out in the consensus reached nearly a decade ago.

I could imagine an argument along the lines of, "Based on additional contextual clues a, b, and c, it seems more likely that OP has his own case in which he wants to obtain a continuance, and has therefore disguised his question as generic inquiry," but if we're relying on inferences to read OP's mind, can we really say that this is "clearly" a request for specific advice?

And more importantly, who cares? If the idea is to build a site that promotes the diffusion of legal knowledge, what interests are undermined by leaving this question in place?

3
  • 3
    I'd note also that @ohwilleke submitted the other close vote on this question. He's among the most constuctive editors of the site, so I admit that his involvement causes me to second-guess myself here. I'd love to hear anything he has to say about what I might be missing here.
    – bdb484
    Feb 26 at 19:44
  • "Asking for a friend" too often means "asking for myself, but I'm embarrassed to admit it".
    – Mark
    Mar 5 at 3:36
  • @Mark Yeah, that's the sort of thing that I think is motivating this. But again, in the specific context of any given question, can we really say it's "clearly" a request for specific legal advice?
    – bdb484
    Mar 5 at 14:09

3 Answers 3

5

I think there are three separate issues in your post:

  1. Questions being closed for asking for legal advice when they clearly don't do that.
  2. Whether questions which do ask for legal advice should be closed or edited into a generic question.
  3. Whether legal advice questions should be allowed in the first place.

On the first point, it's unfortunately fairly common for questions to attract close-votes which don't make much sense. This applies to all stackexchange sites, not just law, and it applies to all close-vote reasons, not just legal advice. I'm not sure what can really be done about this other than encouraging people to carefully read the close-vote reason before submitting it. I usually comment on a question if it seems to me to have attracted an inappropriate close-vote and, if enough people upvote such a comment, that can be effective in bringing it to the attention of future would-be close-voters or can help with a re-open vote.

On the second point, I'm not sure that I entirely agree that "questions like this should be edited into generic inquiries rather than closed" (taken from your answer). This implies that it should happen in every case (or at least most cases) which would seem to defeat the purpose of having such a close-vote in the first place. Clearly the site wanted the close-vote to be used or they wouldn't have put it there.

It's probably a more reasonable argument that in some cases we should close and in some other cases we should edit. Arguing too strongly in favour of one over the other would mean ignoring the fact that the site made both options available and presumably intended there to be a choice between them.

My approach (rightly or wrongly) is to base it on how heavily edited the question would need to be to comply. If I can make a few minor tweaks then I'll usually edit. If I'd have to completely re-write the question and change big chunks of text then I still might edit anyway if I feel like it. However, I almost might vote to close since that is quick and simple. I don't think an editor should feel obliged to do a lot of work that the OP should have done to begin with.

If we always or almost always edited then we would be encouraging low-quality posts and providing OPs with no incentive to do better. We'd also be placing an increased burden on editors.

And more importantly, who cares? If the idea is to build a site that promotes the diffusion of legal knowledge, what interests are undermined by leaving this question in place?

This is different to the first two points because it isn't about how editors and close-voters should behave but rather requires a change to the site rules. Here's what the help page says:

Please don't ask questions seeking legal advice on a specific matter. These are off-topic for Law Stack Exchange. While users generally contribute answers in good faith, the answers are not legal advice, and contributors here are not your lawyer.

There are two reasons I can think of for why this rule might be important.

First, it protects people who post answers from being sued for giving legal advice. This could be because the advice turns out to be wrong and the OP loses out somehow because they relied on it. Or it could be because giving legal advice is illegal in the answerer's jurisdiction. For example, in , while it is fine for non-lawyers to give most kinds of legal advice, it is illegal for a non-qualified person to give immigration related legal advice under Section 84 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Many non-lawyers might be completely unaware of rules like this and inadvertently commit a criminal offence by posting answers. Answering a generic question isn't advice, so it isn't caught by such rules.

Second, it encourages people who are seeking legal advice to do so from a qualified lawyer and not rely on advice from random strangers on the internet which might, and often does, sound very plausible and convincing but is actually wrong. This second point is a bit weaker because those people can simply frame their question generically to get around the rule, but it at least provides a small obstacle to doing so which might get them to think about how appropriate it is to rely on the answers.

Both of these issues can be worked around to some extent with disclaimers which make it clear that answers aren't legal advice, but I think risks would still remain in both cases.

1

We have a long-standing consensus that questions like this should be edited into generic inquiries rather than closed.

I'd propose first of all that editors stick with that approach.

There will of course be occasions where editors ignore that consensus, as well as borderline cases where reasonable editors can disagree about whether the question requires editing.

In those cases, I'd propose that moderators at least refrain from closing questions before a consensus is reached that closing is a better approach than editing.

2
  • If a user sees a bad question but they can’t edit it into shape they should do nothing? If a question gets fix it can be reopened.
    – Joe W
    Apr 19 at 18:45
  • There are questions that are readily editable, which I sometimes answer without editing because the general idea involved is clear enough, and others that are so specific and fact rich to the point of ranting, that they can't be saved.
    – ohwilleke
    May 22 at 21:01
-6

Closure is an opportunity for that editing

Closure votes are always, to some extent, subjective and no one, moderator or otherwise, is required to justify their vote and nor should they be. There is also, no doubt, a bandwagon effect - once a marginal question has attracted one or two close votes it’s more likely to get closed. That means that there will be questions closed that perhaps shouldn't be and vice-versa.

If a user thinks a question has been improperly closed they can flag it for reconsideration by a mod and explain their reasoning in the flag. They can also leave a comment for any fly-by users to encourage them to vote to reopen.

That said, closure is not an execution, it is an opportunity for anyone, but particularly the OP, to make the required edits to allow the question to be reopened. Remember, there is no onus on anyone but the OP to edit a question that the community has decided to close. Again, once edited, it can be flagged for a mod to reopen, or we can just let the user base decide.

12
  • 3
    If close votes are "always ... subjective" and "no one ... is required to justify their vote," isn't it a bit disingenous to pretend that closing "is an opportunity ... to make the required edits to allow the question to be reopened"? For instance, with the question that spurred this post, no one knows what edits are required, because you -- as a moderator -- closed it without allowing the community to reach a consensus and without offering any explanation as to what anyone can do to allow the question to be reopened.
    – bdb484
    Feb 23 at 0:10
  • @bdb484 and yet ... an edit was made and the question got reopened.
    – Dale M Mod
    Feb 23 at 1:57
  • 4
    I'm sure everyone is grateful for your magnanimity on this specific occasion, but it doesn't really do anything to resolve the problem, which goes well beyond this specific occasion.
    – bdb484
    Feb 23 at 8:20
  • Just so you know, sarcasm is really not very effective at persuading people.
    – Dale M Mod
    Feb 23 at 8:21
  • 5
    I sincerely believe that you have failed to resolve the broader problem.
    – bdb484
    Feb 23 at 11:06
  • 4
    I'm going to level with you, I'm not clear how the edits to the question have made it more suitable than the original iteration. It just feels like edits were made to trigger the system to queue it for re-opening. Feb 26 at 15:58
  • 3
    @Pyrotechnical Strongly agree. What was wrong with it in the first place that was fixed by those edits? It would be nice if the mods didn't keep this information secret, but here we are.
    – bdb484
    Feb 26 at 19:27
  • 1
    How should users know what needs to be edited? If there is no explanation given as to why the question is an RSLA, that leaves no way to fix the question other than to blindly rewrite it hoping that the edits are sufficient, and if not, to continue repeating this process indefinitely. In some cases it's obvious what needs to be changed, but that was certainly not the case with this question. When a question that is already written as a hypothetical situation is closed as an RSLA with no reason why, how can anyone know what to change?
    – Someone
    Feb 29 at 17:22
  • 1
    @Someone the same way a user knows before they post a question for the first time. Making any edit gets it in the reopen queue, the rest is up to the community.
    – Dale M Mod
    Feb 29 at 20:22
  • 1
    Again, it's not "up to the community" if a mod comes in and short-circuits that process by arbitrarily closing a question, which is what happened here.
    – bdb484
    Mar 6 at 16:31
  • @bdb484 mods are part of the community.
    – Dale M Mod
    Mar 6 at 20:57
  • 1
    @DaleM I think it's a bit problematic to not recognize that a single mod vote automatically triggers an action. I could understand if there were already 3 or 4 close votes already cast, but there was only 1 and it lacked a comment on how to improve things. You casting a close vote meant no additional discussion would occur. There are plenty of questions I encounter where there's 3 VtC because of requests for legal advice and lacking comments, so I presume they're just folks just default closing. It seems a lot of times when I cast Remain Open votes with a comment, things stop defaulting. Mar 26 at 15:17

You must log in to answer this question.

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