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I've been seeing an annoyingly high number of posts where a major part of the answer mentions "IANAL" in some shape or form, especially when we have this handy dandy general disclaimer on the right (added recently, I believe):

General disclaimer

This is just as annoying as greetings like "hello" and "thanks" on SO, which are automatically removed on send.

So, should we remove IANAL as merely noise from posts, since this disclaimer is already clearly posted on every page?

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    Closely related: meta.law.stackexchange.com/questions/178/…. – HDE 226868 Sep 20 '15 at 16:56
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    Can you clarify: Do you literally object to the statement, "IANAL"? Extended disclaimers do seem superfluous, but on this site it might be informative to know that a particular answer is or isn't provided by a lawyer, and I can't think of a shorter way of communicating this. (I'm not arguing here that we should or shouldn't have a policy on such a declaration, but rather wondering if an answerer sees it relevant to say, "I am a lawyer" or "I am not a lawyer," do you consider that noise?) – feetwet Sep 20 '15 at 21:09
  • Disclaimer is not visible in stack exchange app. – Viktor Sep 21 '15 at 2:13
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    Another related question Can we get a blanket disclaimer out of the way? – CodesInChaos Sep 24 '15 at 7:49
  • what does IANAL mean? – MicroMachine Sep 26 '15 at 8:28
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    @fabriced "I am not a lawyer" – oldmud0 Sep 26 '15 at 14:27
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I have never seen "IANAL" ... in fact I just figured out what it meant (my bad). Personally, I almost never use an additional disclaimer. However, there have been times when I've seen really good questions that appear to be seeking actual specific legal advice. As an attorney, the rules of ethics necessitate that if I give legal advice to someone in a back and forth (Q & A) manner, without creating an attorney client relationship (carrying with it all sorts of duties and privileges), it is incumbent on me to ensure they realize, without question, that I am not creating that type of relationship. Because of that, there are times (not often) that I have felt compelled to explicitly make clear to them that this is what I am doing.

This is especially important when I am giving an answer that (I think) fully addresses their question, but as a lawyer I can clearly see that the question they asked should necessitate a whole host of other questions that are relevant and important to their particular issue, and that I would obviously address with them if they were my client. But since they aren't, I don't know if they've already dealt with and have recognized those issues, and it's not really my place or the correct forum to ask.

Since someone can click on my profile and read that I am an attorney, if I feel like they may rely too much on my answer/advice without knowing that a whole bunch of other issues exist by mere virtue of my profession, and I want to make sure they know not to rely on that answer alone, I have added additional disclosures. I apologize if this has ever offended or annoyed!

Just a note: I think that the specific disclosure about not relying on the advice on here could be more visible than it is. Especially for this particular community dealing with legal issues, this could be more important, as opposed to other SE communities where it's not as relevant. And since the APP doesn't have the disclosure at all (at least not that I've seen).

If that additional disclosure bothers people, generally, then I'm not sure what the best course of action is, short of either making a rule against it, or making it their problem to just deal with. I can see how it could be annoying if someone puts that every time they answer a question.

  • I was reading something on META SE and i posted this answer to a completely unrelated post! Jeeez – gracey209 Sep 29 '15 at 14:36
  • the APP doesn't have the disclosure at all | This is correct, nor does the mobile version of the website (open your favourite mobile browser and visit the site). – jimsug Sep 30 '15 at 2:55
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I think answers should stand on their own and not rely on the claimed expertise of the author (nor doubted due to the lack of expertise of the author).

If an answer is correct, it is correct no matter the profession of the author.

Claiming IANAL is unnecessary. The author could even be lying about that. Saying "I am not a lawyer; I am not your lawyer..." is doubly unnecessary.

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There at least a couple of reasons that these are on the posts:

  1. Some of these predate the disclaimer, which was only placed on the site on or about 20 August 2015.

  2. Some users will not be persuaded that this disclaimer is sufficient; unfortunately there may be no way to convince them, until and unless we have an authoritative declaration that this notice is sufficient, which may or may not ever happen - it's hard to prove a negative.

    It is my opinion that the disclaimer should be sufficient. For example, the American Bar Association has an opinion on this matter, however it's difficult to persuade everyone. One need only search for things like unauthorised practice of law, malpractice, legal disclaimers, and so on, to see that there's a large number of opinions on it.

At this time, we don't have an official policy on disclaimers in the body of answers; let's see what arises from this discussion.

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I am going to assume that - since the link included by OP includes two disclaimers; IANAL and IANYL - this question also applies to the IANYL disclaimers.

The Ethics Opinion that jumsug linked to makes some suggestions:

To avoid misleading readers, lawyers should make sure that legal information is accurate and current, and should include qualifying statements or disclaimers that “may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.”

and

[O]ur previous opinions have recommended that lawyers who provide general legal information include statements that characterize the information as general in nature and caution that it should not be understood as a substitute for personal legal advice.*

The opinion also suggests that

Although no exact line can be drawn between legal information and legal advice, both the context and content of the information offered are helpful in distinguishing between the two.**

I read this to say that a lawyer providing information or commenting on general legal issues should be explicit. If a lawyer finds herself in that area between information and advice, it is smart to include the disclaimer this is information, not advice.

So these disclaimers should not be removed, should not be treated as thanks and hello, and should only be ignored at the reader's peril.

  • We aren't talking about whether IANAL should be included anywhere, we are talking about whether the disclaimer in the body is redundant. – oldmud0 Sep 21 '15 at 21:39
  • No, we are talking about including it in what we write, regardless of the boilerplate appearing elsewhere. – jqning Sep 21 '15 at 21:50
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    I agree, with @ jqning, that to the extent it appears someone is seeking specific actual advice rather than just engaging in intellectual discourse, even if put hypothetically, it should be up to the individual drafter dictated by their assessment of the query and the circumstances of the specific situation as it presents itself. If any person thinks it necessary pursuant to their own professional ethical requisites, even if only prophylactically to add an additional disclosure, the annoyance it may cause the few, is certainly better than the, albeit unlikely, but potential alternative. – gracey209 Sep 30 '15 at 4:26

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