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Isn't the question Students drugs teacher an example of a question that clearly asks for specific legal advice?

It seems to me to be asking, "This happened to me, is this actionable and under what statute?" -- isn't that asking for legal advice?

Why is this question popular and not closed? Does the faq about legal advice not really mean what I thought it's saying?


Also that faq says

edit the question to make it a question that asks for general legal information".

Why does rewording a question as a hypothetical -- e.g. "suppose X happened" instead of "X happened to me" -- make it any significantly better?

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Why is this question popular?

Due to often mysterious and mutable criteria, the question made it onto the "Hot Network Questions" (HNQ) list.

Why does rewording a question as a hypothetical – e.g. "suppose X happened" instead of "X happened to me" – make it any significantly better?

At least two reasons I'm aware of:

  1. As with most Stack Exchange sites, we want questions and answers that are more broadly applicable. Eliminating personal details that distract from the question of law generally results in questions that are more clear and on-topic. I.e., it's a good heuristic to begin with, and:
  2. It can make the difference between a question being left open instead of closed as a request for specific legal advice.

"This happened to me, is this actionable and under what statute?" -- isn't that asking for legal advice?

"Is X a crime?" is a question about law. "What legal action should I take in this situation?" would be a request for legal advice. This question (to me) appears to be a variant of the former.

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There is no way to know what question will be popular, vs. sink into oblivion. As for the other matter, I would estimate that 2/3 of the questions asked are technically asking for legal advice. Very few questions are strictly academic / educational. About 2/3 of those questions can reasonably be interpreted as rephrasable as a general information question. Standard practice here is therefore to cut questioners slack, and not interpret most questions very narrowly and literally as a question about a very specific set of circumstances. That way, we are not giving legal advice. The problem is that over 2/3 of people don't know what it means to "ask for legal advice", so they also don't know how to avoid doing it. Stating what the law is is not giving legal advice. Recommending a course of action based on a belief about the law is giving legal advice.

In reality, we would like to ban answers that give legal advice, but that's technically impossible (the reasons for wanting to ban legal advice is legal). The surrogate is to ban asking questions that encourage legal advice answers.

Pursuant to additional discussion in the commentary, I want to point out that we generally adhere to the rule of lenity, hence give the benefit of the doubt to questioners. Apart from the fact that 2/3 of questions are actually asking for legal advice, 2/3 of questions are unclear. If we automatically close such questions, we will have very few questions that survive, and that would not be good for the health of LSE (it would be fatal).

I think it is useful to look at closed questions, to see what kinds of questions get closed for seeking legal advice. One example is this, which absolutely clearly is a request for legal advice. Another is this one, which is not so clear but still it got the required 5 closure votes. Now let's look at the core of the question in question:

What are the legal ramifications of this situation? Is it a criminal act? What about the other 21 students who saw what happened and did/said nothing; just watched me ingest the medicine? Areare they not accessories?

This is a clear request for information about what the law is. It does not ask "how do I get back at the student who did this?" or "how do I get the RSO fired". I really do not see any way in which this can be interpreted as a request for legal advice, in the sense that one goes to a lawyer and pays for a legal consultation.

  • Why is it "technically impossible" to ban answers that give legal advice? The community (or a moderator) could edit them, a moderator can delete them. Ditto closing or deleting questions which ask for legal advice. Or is the rule just there but always ignored -- technically on the books, but asking for and/or giving advice is always tolerated in practice? – ChrisW Nov 7 '18 at 2:08
  • The surrogate is to ban asking questions that encourage legal advice answers I thought this one was obviously an example of such a question, or is it not? And yet it wasn't banned. – ChrisW Nov 7 '18 at 2:09
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    @ChrisW – The line between "legal information" and "legal advice" is poorly defined. It's not even really a line, because answers to legal questions can also include personal experience, anecdotes, and other dimensions. Even professional lawyers can disagree about what constitutes "legal advice." The rule against requests for specific legal advice is enforced on questions for reasons that are detailed in many other legal-advice posts. When users offer blatant legal advice in answers they (and readers) are generally cautioned in comments, but that's their prerogative. – feetwet Nov 7 '18 at 2:57
  • @feetwet Sorry to go on, but, are you implying that the rule such as it is is meant to protect people who answer questions -- who might be reluctant to give advice (and it's for that reason that you discourage questions which ask for it), and who probably shouldn't (because it's unethical or unprofessional to do so) -- but who may, if they want to? IOW you don't enforce it strictly to protect people who ask questions, nor to protect the reputation/purpose of the SE site? Or is it just that it's too vague, that you can't determine whether a question such as this one is even "asking for advice"? – ChrisW Nov 7 '18 at 10:46
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    @ChrisW – These are good (meta) questions. I'd say they merit their own Q&A ... except that we already have a good canon going back to the beginning of this site in which these are addressed at length. Regarding present practice: Request for "SLA" is by far the most common close reason here. But you will still find plenty of questions all along the "SLA" spectrum that were not only left open but also given good answers. It's a judgment call we struggle with every day. – feetwet Nov 7 '18 at 15:03

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