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We receive very many questions that are in fact requests for legal advice, contrary to policy, and they are closed only sporadically (primarily in egregious cases). Here is a recent example, where a user asked what they should do. This question could be rephrased to become a question about what the law is (it also has a bit of "unclear what you're asking" but I think we can infer that this is a commercial lease and it is in the US since in Canada and Europe nobody turns on the heat at 50 degrees).

One response would be VTC, in the hopes that the user will somehow change the question to not be a recommendation about what legal action she should take, and make it into a question about what principles of law, if any, would favor a tenant in this situation. I doubt that a comment to the effect "you're asking for advice" or closing the question would lead the author to rewrite the question. I also think that leaving legal-advice questions out there for all to see encourages the false belief that LSE is a forum for free legal advice.

In this case, the facts do not strike me as being so specific to the case that it requires a individually-tailored analysis, whereas in some cases (not always easy to identify), there is no possible remedy other than closure. I propose that in cases where a legal-advice request can be clearly converted into a request for information about the state of the law, that (experienced) users should modify the question suitably. This does run contrary to the ethos that users should take responsibility for their questions, but the fact is that we do get a lot of advice questions, and the voting bar for legal advice closings appears to me to be higher than it should be (that is, not enough people VTC questions like this).

I know that a user with sufficient reputation can edit questions in the fashion that I suggest; my question is whether it would be bad practice to engage in a vigorous policy of rewriting question. (There is a corollary question about "unclear" questions, but I thought it would be best to ask a more limited question).

  • There is precedent suggesting that rewriting questions to be on topic is a positive thing ;) – feetwet Jan 29 at 19:47
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I don't believe this is any different from the same problem on many other SE sites; a low-quality question that can be polished up into acceptability should be, certainly if the alternative is to VTC on clearly-established grounds like "asking for legal advice".

There are a few principles to bear in mind:

  • Be sure you don't edit from one specific area to another. "How do I get my landlord arrested in the State of North Jacobea?" should not be answered, and could well be edited into "What are the principles of landlord-tenant law in North Jacobea/ common law countries/the United States?" But setting out the principles in South Jacobea is not an answer, and editing the question to make such an answer fit is wrong.
  • You do have to explain, probably in a comment on the question, why you have edited so severely. "Your original question cannot be answered here; this version can be, and I hope the answers will be useful to you" will both soothe ruffled feathers and reduce the likelihood of an edit war.
  • Make sure your version is (in SE terms) beyond reproach. I am sure many questions on the border of acceptability remain unclosed because people think "that's not really enough to close, especially from a new user." But your edit will carry your name; either omitting the necessary jurisdiction or guessing at what jurisdiction the OP intended is unacceptable.

But if you can turn the sow's ear of a request for legal advice into the silk purse of a question about legal principles, then I applaud your diligence, and look forward to seeing and answering such questions. The OP may even get something useful out of it.

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If you're going to edit, then do so, preferably in conjunction with comments and responses from the original asker.

If you're not going to edit and it meets criteria for closure, vote to close.

Remember that a post that is on hold can be reopened once it is made appropriate. That's the point of being closed - to prevent answers being posted that will be made inappropriate, irrelevant, invalid or otherwise go against the principles of Stack Exchange. We shouldn't shy from following the process just because people don't like one of its potential implications, or because they don't understand the process themselves.

As it stands, we do get a lot of questions from people who are only here for that one question, and who won't put in the effort to make their question useful for anybody beyond themselves, even if a generalised version helps them as much as the specific version.

The specific question should be, must be closed (unless Stack Exchange wants to be examined for unlicensed practice). That helps nobody. The general question can be (re)open(ed) and doesn't put us as a community at risk. This helps both the original asker and later users facing a similar situation.

We would be silly not to go from a situation where we have a net loss, to a situation where we have a net gain. Where a question should be closed as off-topic, edit where possible to make it on-topic, or vote to close it.

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No

The editing privilege gives guidance for when to edit (my emphasis):

Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. Editing is encouraged!

Some common reasons to edit are:

  • to fix grammatical or spelling mistakes
  • to clarify the meaning of a post without changing it
  • to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages
  • to add related resources or hyperlinks

An edit that moves a question from the specific to the general is almost always going to change it in a way that the OP does not intend and may not understand. It is their question and while we can encourage them to change it so that it meets the site rules, it must remain their question.

In addition, there is a very real risk that changing their question is legal advice - translating real world facts into legal scenarios is what lawyers do!

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