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[flagged] Ask PG: Can we have a guideline regarding legal advice?
29 points by jsprinkles on June 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments
As we all (hopefully) know, specific legal advice is not something to discuss with the Internet for a plethora of reasons. Anything you write online regarding legal action can be used against your company, whether you run it or not. There is very real damage to be done by not being careful. However, I see too many threads where someone posts a legal tale[1] and immediately the comments fill up with this general template:

    I am not a lawyer, and this is not advice.

    That said, here's what I'd do:
I don't think people are cognizant enough of the legal consequences and ramifications as a result of a seemingly-innocuous comment like this; that doesn't just go for the person heeding the advice, there is also, in some cases, liability created for the person giving the advice.

Can we have a guideline explicitly mentioning armchair lawyering and why it's bad, and why it shouldn't be done? Please?

[1]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4055256

I don't see any danger in offering "advice" whether it be medical or legal or computer as long as you don't misrepresent who you are. (In other words I don't even think you have to say IANAL you just shouldn't represent that you are if you are not.) Why? There should always be a general degree of caution and since there is no way to verify that someone is a lawyer or doctor (with a few exceptions such as grellas who openly posts contact info) the assumption should be that the advice is strictly to point you in the right direction and you need to pay someone in the end).

With regard for the reason for this "Ask PG" IANAL but I have plenty to say about this by virtue of the fact that I own domains and have successfully fended off Fedx and American Express as well as several other smaller companies. In some of those cases I've used an attorney and in other cases I have not. What I think about this does count even though I'm not a lawyer. Lawyers also keep in mind know the law but they don't think strategy many times which is also important.

As far as "liability" I think you are taking this to seriously. Do you really think someone is going to bring a cause of action against someone writing something on hacker news with the appropriate disclaimer (or not)? Why not a cause of action if someone gives bad advice on a backup solution? That's going to hold up in court? While anything can happen I think this is extremely remote. A comment on HN is not like writing a blog and pretending to be a lawyer.

Above opinion by the way is based on my 30 years in business avoiding all sorts of legal issues along the way.

> I don't think people are cognizant enough of the legal consequences and ramifications as a result of a seemingly-innocuous comment like this; that doesn't just go for the person heeding the advice, there is also, in some cases, liability created for the person giving the advice.

I don't think people are cognizant of the ramifications of wearing denim suits, but I think it's ok that they do it. Seriously, (most) everyone here is an adult, and fully capable of making these decisions for themselves. It's up to you how you choose to participate, whether in this context or any other.

Don't trust stuff you read on forums.

Who can forget Pierre Salinger:


"But later in life, Mr. Salinger proved far less adroit in dealing with the new medium of the Internet, publicizing what turned out to be a bogus document that Trans World Airlines Flight 800 had been shot down off Long Island in 1996 by a Navy missile gone awry. The episode badly damaged his credibility and bewildered some of his oldest friends."

A good reminder for those of us who practically live on the internet.

edit: But I think OP is also concerned about the liability created for ones giving the advice, not just welfare of the ones receiving it. A guideline would help keep these advice givers out of trouble

Couldn't agree more. What do you think about specifically mentioning legal advice?

I find it astounding that you lied about what I said, managed to derail discussion, and are now trying to loop PG into making it verboten to talk about any legal issues at all.

Since I didn't give any legal advice[1], but you constantly insisted I did, what you're really lobbying for is the power to shut people up who talk about laws.

[1] Other than "get a lawyer". The topic of the post was how doing research might get lawyers interested because he'd been turned down so far.

Will you guys please stop?

Give it a rest bro!

Amen. Talk about "running to mommy"

Under color of what law would you be sued for making free suggestions about legal matters?

Under the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, providing legal advice without a license potentially could be considered "practicing law without a license" or, for licensed attorneys, the creation of an attorney-client relationship, which creates duties for the attorney.

This is not law though.

When you need legal advice, talk to a lawyer.

"...there is also, in some cases, liability created for the person giving the advice."

[citation(s) needed]

"The unauthorized practice of a profession is prohibited by state laws."

"unauthorized practice of a profession" is not the same as offering an occasional comment on a blog. It's pretending to be a lawyer or acting in a way a lawyer would or charging for it.

For one thing it would be seen as de minimis not to mention the fact that there is no compensation for the service.

Think of it this way. You may need a license to have an office and offer therapy and pass some tests. But do you know of anyone who ever got charged with impersonating a social worker by offering advice for free to a friend?

It's anecdotal, so it doesn't carry much weight, but I have firsthand experience with comments such as those in that thread carrying legal consequences for people. I'm not legally permitted to discuss it beyond that.

Every day prosecutors decide what crimes to charge people with (or not) and people decide when they are damaged enough by something to hire a lawyer. And of course there are cases where someone is pissed off and will sue with no merit to get revenge with barely a leg to stand on.

"I'm not legally permitted to discuss it beyond that."

Sorry this had to happen to you and I see where your caution comes from.

can't you find one in which you don't have such first hand experience with?

Lawyers and their clients are probably pretty cautious about discussing such incidents. Imagine you've just had some negative legal repercussions for discussing a case online. If you then wrote a blog post or whatever about that, you'd be doing pretty much the same thing that got you in trouble in the first place. So this is one good reason why it might be hard to find write-ups of cases like this.

No, it doesn't help in the least. The link you post mentions ONE CASE where a committee of the Texas Supreme Court apparently made a complaint because someone published a self help legal book. That complaint was dropped.

Now, how again is publishing and taking money for a self-help legal book (and indeed suffering NO legal liability for doing so) analogous to discussing the law on the internet with no money exchanging hands?

Again, where exactly are these "cases" of "liability" the OP is citing?

I'm not claiming the link contains mountains of references to actual cases. It was meant as a helpful general overview of the topic. The parent comment asked for a citation of the fact that "there is also, in some cases, liability created for the person giving the advice." The link I gave clearly states that there can be civil and criminal liability related to unauthorized practice of law.

Surprising to get down voted for a comment consisting of "this should help" plus a link to a relevant source.

Also, the fact that I cited this law doesn't mean I'm giving an opinion as to whether HN should have a policy about legal advice. I'm just trying to contribute to the discussion by interjecting some relevant facts.

As to my personal opinion, I lean slightly against an HN prohibition on the giving or soliciting legal advice. While the state may have something to say about it, I generally think it's not PG's responsibility to protect people from bad advice--which is the whole purpose of the law in the first place.

Don't worry, he commented about 20 times with legal recommendations against giving legal recommendations and dodges any requests for information about a court case or really any elaboration beyond hand waving and spooky insinuations.

I gave up this topic several hours ago, and you are just now commenting to scold me for it, and following me around to do so. For someone who self-describes as "not a troll," you sure work hard to look like one, based on observing you for several months. Even pg had to tell you to shut up the other day.

Go away and let this issue lie.

You're the one that spammed it, ran to mommy and now are calling me a troll? Yes. I have made it this far and long on HN by being a troll. You're the one going around being a hypocrite and not supporting your arguments.

Ironic that in your 'run to mommy' thread you try to invoke pg as some authority for you. (ironically his comment was trying to stop a futile argument in the bud, as you could easily have seen the other killed comment that wasn't mine while you were stalking me)?

And after you accuse me of following you, you say you've been "observing me for months" and concluded I'm a troll. You're a creep. What is your problem?

I read the comment threads and observe patterns. You are generally an obnoxious troll, enough that I recognize your name. Like I recognize tptacek as a security expert. You, in my mind, are burned in as "obnoxious troll". Other names are burned in as permanent no-hires, never-do-business. That list grows pretty quickly. I have a good memory for obnoxious or blatantly stupid people, so you've stuck.

I didn't skim your comment history, I read the God damned thread yesterday. I should have known you'd show up and want a spoonful of this delicious troll soup, hours after the fact, while saying absolutely nothing of contributing value that other people haven't said already.

The complete irony of this is that the abuse I'm getting for "running to mommy" (I'm sure Paul Graham would really appreciate your minimization) is not what I expected for trying to help people not get in legal trouble, and that you can't see that just means: you are a troll.

Wow. Please, slander me more and call me names and wield baseless accusations.

I would hope that pg is intelligent enough to understand that my characterization of this post isn't meant to minimize him in the least. Someone repeating the same thing over and over and flatly ignoring the same requests for an actual explanation or elaboration is bad enough. When it's followed by an immediate run to the admin for a ban seems childish to me.

You came to me, bud.

Can you edit that comment any more? I liked the fuller, more stupid one better wherein you claim I'm mad at you for something you said in a Bitcoin thread, like I'm a high school sophomore or something that holds a grudge. No, you're just ignorant, and I've noticed because I pay attention.

Oh look, a completely new paragraph kissing pg's ass! Rewrite your comment again, this is fun to watch.

> When it's followed by an immediate run to the admin for a ban seems childish to me.

Pause. Time out.

Now you're just being intentionally disingenuous, like many that have come before you. I did not come here to ask pg to ban him. I came here to ask for a guideline to be added advising against giving and receiving legal advice on Hacker News, as if you are not careful it can be disastrous. Without the guideline, it's just jackass me in a thread going "hey, that's a bad idea, don't do that," but people in general seem to pay attention to guidelines.

Since you've been around the block of Hacker News a few times, you and I both know what a guideline is. Stop acting like I'm doing something I'm not.

Every single one of your replies: calls me names, insults me, offers no citations. Every single one of your replies repeats the same claims over and over about a legal risk for giving advice. A half a dozen people have asked you for an explanation and you refuse to even elaborate.

You can think what you like of me, normally I'd say I'm sorry that I've left this impression on you. I just don't understand where you're coming from on this topic and it's clear that many others don't either.

edit: I meant a "ban" on the practice of giving legal advice, I didn't mean to imply on the person. You're right "ban" is the wrong word anyway.

Dude, you're even more interested in calling yourself names than just participating in the actual conversation. I'm sorry that I've failed to express myself well here but I'm losing patience with trying to have discourse.

> Every single one of your replies: calls me names, insults me

Oh, my God! You're right! It's almost like I'm reacting to the tone of conversation that you set by calling me names, or something else equally logical!


> A half a dozen people have asked you for an explanation and you refuse to even elaborate.

And, half a dozen people have gotten replies explaining that I am not legally permitted -- as in, I'll be held in contempt and go to jail if I do -- to elaborate on the firsthand knowledge I have regarding a similar situation. I've seen it happen personally, I advise against it as a result, I'm sorry, I can't elaborate further. The end. The irony here is that I went after tptacek for this a few days ago and now I'm in a similar situation myself.

I know what I'm talking about. I can't provide evidence to you, and I don't care if you believe me or not, but I will still share my opinion that it's legally questionable territory.

> I just don't understand where you're coming from on this topic and it's clear that many others don't either.

The several people and lawyer who agreed with my position make perfectly valid explanations that I did not think of, and not a single soul replied to them, but everybody's happy to pile on jsprinkles because his tone isn't perfect. Don't come back high and mighty about discourse when you started this conversation with three annoying, smarmy comments. Go fuck a rake.

Please, I'm begging you, bring back the Bitcoin remark so I can laugh at it again. And, keep deleting the comments that I'm referring to to undermine my position. Don't worry. I remember.

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