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Issues about the law and legal matters are somewhat unlike other topics of StackExchange sites.

An attorney has to pass the bar. A programmer, gamer, contractor, designer, writer, etc aren't required to have direct certification or authorization to work in their chosen profession (other than a business license perhaps).

I realize this breaks the Stack model to a degree, but . . .

Should those users who have passed the bar exam have some sort of special moniker or representation in their user "plaque" in order to designate them as a working professional?

I realize this could potentially open up other issues such as, what prevents a user from lying about credentials? However, I think it's a valid discussion.

I did review this question: Reminding people that you are not an attorney - Perhaps the site can handle this for you? regarding the disclaimer -- which I never saw, coming from other stack accounts.

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In general, people's contributions on the Stack Exchange network of sites should be judged on... well, the merits of each post.

While it's certainly a valid discussion, I believe that this would be, ultimately, a mistake.

Let me illustrate. I haven't passed the bar. (In fact, because of the split legal system in New South Wales, I may never need to. But that's a technicality, and I don't mean for it to detract from the crux of your suggestion.) Because of my limited legal education, I can answer certain types of questions and more readily cite authorities in support of those questions. At the end of the day, however, it's not my legal education but the quality of my answers that (I hope) people are voting on.

This is because even if I had been admitted, no lawyer is an expert in all fields of law. Even if we could designate certain specialists in some way, the fact that you are a specialist doesn't automatically make your answer superior to others for that reason alone.

What makes an answer better - in my opinion - is that it answers the question (you'd think this would be a given, but it really isn't), it cites appropriate authorities, and it is in plain enough language to be understood. The goal of this site is to make the internet a better place, and we can't do that if answers are privileged because of some appeal to authority.

Finally, a similar question has come up on Health SE - Should we have a “verified physician” tag next to certain users? - and I'm just going to quote Robert Cartaino's answer:

No, we don't sanction one user over another based on their credentials. That is simply not how the Stack Exchange model works.

We — as a community — vet answers. This type of certification of users had been requested as recently as our Engineering site (Are expertise verified user flairs possible?), but we simply do not pre-qualify one user's participation over another based on who they are.

A user's answers — or anything written on the internet for that matter — should never be taken verbatim. You should remain skeptical and vet the information you see. Ask questions and clarify posts wherever you are able. It is that strong culture of peer review and wiki-style editing that makes this all work. And that is the strength of Stack Exchange.


Another benefit of citing authorities - I hope - is that some people will take the time to try to read the relevant parts, and become more confident and able to do so. In that way, we're increasing access to the law, which is a particular problem. Note that this doesn't replace an actual legal education, and I wouldn't want people to decide they can represent themselves in court based solely on the fact that they've asked a bunch of questions on Law SE. However, hopefully this kind of site can help people be more informed about the law and the way it affects them, as well as their own responsibilities and rights with respect to each other. But this paragraph is my own sort of... aspiration for the site and if it happens is a good thing, and if it doesn't... well, the site can still succeed.

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    Considering the legal risk of being held liable for 'practicing law' in an inaccurate manner it's likely much safer to not tell anyone who is a lawyer. If you don't identify yourself as one you less liable to have to deal with claims of liability for practicing law in an inappropriate manner; not that I see anyone successfully making a claim that an answer on SE is practicing law anyways. – dsollen Dec 29 '15 at 21:44
  • Even high-powered lawyers in cases with stakes much higher than an SE question sometimes get things wrong, or fail to read an authority they're citing to recognize it makes a point opposite to what they intended. Some lawyers win over judges on the basis of their name alone, but that's not how a legal system should work. I support having no visible distinction to mark the user, and letting quality expertise or lack thereof shine through in the quality of answers alone. – WBT Aug 19 '19 at 21:03
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I've argued that this site should go in the opposite direction of your suggestion: that each answer should speak for itself by reference to statute and case law rather than relying on the author's assertions.

For example, it doesn't matter whether I think that 17 USC 106 prohibits the forwarding of personal videos sent by email, no matter how much experience I have. What matters is what the case law says.

Expertise is only a shortcut that would potentially let me create an answer more quickly than another user. It would also let me create an answer that is potentially more robust to criticisms that I haven't considered the most up-to-date law.

  • Very valid points. Thanks. – Scott Dec 18 '15 at 22:47
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To provide a counterpoint to the other answers: Yes, I think certified and practicing professionals should be accorded deference not given users of uncertain or anonymous expertise. This applies to many Stack Exchanges. And the problem, to a degree, is that SE is not in the business of vetting users or credentials.

For example, we did have one user who claimed a J.D. in his profile and who didn't have anything of the sort. Fortunately, his utter lack of expertise was unmistakable in his answers.

On the other hand, one particularly valuable user is a retired lawyer. You have to take a few steps past his profile to discover that fact. When he writes an answer he simply answers the question based on his knowledge and experience. They are excellent and correct answers, but they almost never cite anything so if you don't know that he's an experienced lawyer and know that he is correct you may complain, "Hey, I don't see any references, why is this a good answer; why should I trust what you say?"

Perhaps our most valuable user to date is a practicing lawyer and is quite open about using her professional experience to inform her answers.

I believe active members of the community quickly get a sense for the expertise of the more prolific answerers. But two problems remain:

  1. Somebody new to the scene, or just passing through, doesn't have that context.
  2. When a bona fide lawyer shows up and starts answering questions it isn't immediately clear that they deserve the deference they should be accorded due to their expertise.

To solve these problems I would love to pin a badge on certain answerers that says: This is a professional, so listen to what they say! But not all lawyers want to advertise their credentials, and, as we have already seen, some pretenders would claim authority they lack.

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    While I'd agree that professionals should be listened to, it should be because of what they say, not merely because they are professionals. And as you mention, there is a more practical barrier to doing this: who is going to ensure that those who claim to be professionals actually are? Us? Stack Exchange staff? If this site takes off and we have many users (and I hope it does), this kind of solution doesn't really scale, and I don't know that many or even any issuing authority provides an electronic means of validating practitioner details. – jimsug Dec 21 '15 at 0:21
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    There are plenty of lawyers, as with any field of expertise, that are certified, but they're crap. Adding some seal of authority that sets them above others in an environment like this creates an environment where crap advice from crap experts is given precedence over better advice from someone else. It also brings to recollection the spammy web 2.0 icons of sites like experts-exchange and just-ask like "CERTIFIED EXPERT!". – user900 Dec 27 '15 at 17:08
  • @jimsung, in at least some jurisdictions (notably Illinois and New York) there's a free public online lookup of bar members, either by full name or by registration number. I don't think it would hurt to have a profile field where users can list all bar registration(s), and encourage non-pseudonymous users to fill it in as applicable. An answer shouldn't be upvoted just because it's written by a lawyer, but that might be a factor in deciding how to improve or remove a low-quality answer. – david Dec 29 '15 at 0:10
  • @david sorry, I didn't get the notification - that's what your profile space is for - if you want to fill the "About Me" space with your credentials, that's absolutely okay. – jimsug Jan 6 '16 at 23:42
  • And then there is the guy who shows up, answers everything with whatever non-statistically significant thing that pops into his head at the time whether or not it's correct, nearly correct or even relevant at the time. Usually the voting apparatus weeds him out except in the case when the poster accepts his answer because it came in within seconds of posting. – mark b Jun 5 '19 at 22:00
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One of the hard things about a technical site vetted by a community of non-technicians is that we'd expect votes to correlate with the answer people expect (or the answer people might hope is true) rather than the answer that's correct.

Of course, the law is full of situations where there's no correct answer. But it's also full of stuff that really isn't contested to which everyone stipulates before trial.

Maybe one of the ways to treat this issue is by encouraging more voting by those with more background.

All said, the SE model is good. I wonder if a way to feetwet's notion of vetted answers might come through more community wikis...

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    Yes, this is a problem I think. I've just read an awful answer that amounts to a regurgitation of a wikipedia article itself awful. WP is awful for law because it is maintained by a mixture of non-lawyers and law students who don't realise that what works for their jurisdiction doesn't generalise. You end up with garbage all over the place that I have never had the ability to sort out. It would be a shame if this site becomes like that. – Francis Davey Mar 22 '17 at 8:32
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I completely agree with @jimsug's answer.

In addition, I'd like to point out that while your premise may look sound it could still cause problems.

An attorney has to pass the bar. A programmer, gamer, contractor, designer, writer, etc aren't required to have direct certification or authorization to work in their chosen profession (other than a business license perhaps).

They aren't required. But what if they do get very noteworthy certifications anyway? The list of sites which would like to follow with flairs like you're suggesting is long.

As long as it's not implemented anywhere on the SE network it's easy to explain why it isn't implemented on a specific site. It simply doesn't fit the model of the network. The moment it's implemented on one or more of the sites, others will try where the line is. If Law can have it, Health will want it. If Health can have it, (Electrical) Engineering will want it. But it won't stop there. Security, Seasoned Advice, Amateur Radio, Aviation, every field that acknowledges privileges based on certifications will want it. After that, people with 30+ years experience will want it too.

It will be harder to draw the line somewhere the moment one site crosses the current one.

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Since stack exchange does not promote the dissemination of formal legal advice on its platform, it shouldn't matter if someone has passed the bar, you're just asking for people to break the rules if you do. If no one knows who is a lawyer automatically, people will continue to look at the content of the post rather than simply if someone has passed. However, individual users can cite their own reputable practices if they are relying on their own judgement to answer a question, or if perhaps they see something is clearly a mistake.

  • By 'citing their own practices', do you mean saying things like "in all of the cases I have litigated, X has been true", and similar statement that would lead to concluding that a user is an attorney? – user6726 Jul 2 '17 at 16:09
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Lawyers are only as good as the last advice they gave that actually was correct. And boy do they make mistakes!

My take on this is that although in the real world you would do best to avoid legal advice from unlicensed people, here on SE, knowledge is king, and the right knowledge can come from anybody.

I would not differentiate lawyers from non-lawyers at all. If you are curious, look at the profile, which may or may not truly indicate lawyer status.

  • Good point. I constantly remind my friends that not all doctors graduate with straight As - top of their class. It's possible to find a doctor that was a D student and barely scraped through... I guess the same could be said for the legal profession. – Scott Jan 2 '16 at 8:48
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If we ever return to this topic, I suggest we consider asking for a similar system as is used in reddit/r/science, where individuals are afforded a badge/label based on their specific area of practice. Such a system can become more or less elaborate - from multiple practice areas, to jurisdictions.

SE labels are more appropriate in this regard than in a 'science subreddit', where someone has a PhD in geophysics, or they have a degree in quantum mechanics. I recognize that sciences have crossovers, but I think they're more discrete than varied legal practice.

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There is also the matter of where a poster might be qualified to practice. If we simply have a "passed the bar" designation, how would one tell whether the answers that someone with that designation is posting actually fall under his scope of permitted practice? Should the designation have qualifiers (e.g. "passed the bar in California, Utah, and Oregon" or "Qualified in German Tax Law")?

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