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IANAL et al. is usually the start of answers to [legal] questions on any SE site (e.g. this). You usually end up with personal opinions which sound sensible and the accepted answer is often the one closest to the OP's hopes. But it's probably often not correct. I know the situation can be rather complicated and even differ by location, but it would be really helpful if the SE team were providing official lawyers (indicated maybe by using a § in the username, forbidden for everyone else, just like the mod ♦) to provide some orientation that one could actually rely on beyond much doubt...

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Or, you know, hire a lawyer who can actually take the time to listen to your problem in detail and provide advice that's tailored for you rather than a response based on three or four paragraphs? –  waiwai933 May 5 '11 at 5:30
    
@Waiwai: I don't hire somebody to answer any of the other questions on SO, why hire a lawyer for legal questions? Lawyers who can answer the types of questions we might have are hard to find, ridiculously expensive, and even then might not have the right answer. –  Gabe May 5 '11 at 5:51
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@Gabe Because if you take the wrong advice on a legal problem, you might end up with more problems than you started with. If you take the wrong advice on a programming problem, all you've wasted is some time. –  waiwai933 May 5 '11 at 5:57
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A lot of lawyers probably won't do this. It obviously depends on the country, but I know that here in the US, they can be held legally accountable for legal advice that they give. That means if they don't know for certain (i.e., it's not their area of practice, they don't know all the details of the case, etc.), they won't be much inclined to speculate. If they turn out to be wrong, there are potential ramifications. In particular, you could sue them for providing incorrect or inappropriate counsel. –  Cody Gray May 5 '11 at 6:13
    
@CodyGray: but that's the basic idea here - reliable legal advice publicly available... –  Tobias Kienzler May 5 '11 at 7:48
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What I would find interesting to see is Stack Exchange sponsoring some kind of initiative that makes relevant legal information (like licensing questions, IP issues related to code etc.) available to programmers - on the basis that lawyers are expensive, and a lot of information can be put in a generic way without putting the author in jeopardy. But individual counsel hired by SE is beyond their scope –  Pëkka May 5 '11 at 9:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I initially thought that you meant the legal questions here on MSO. I can see how an informed answer for those makes a bit more sense.

For anything under the sun across the network? That doesn't make as much sense to me. How is this different from hiring someone to go around the network and answer any C++ question? Stack Exchange is the host for the content on the network, but it isn't responsible for providing the answers to the questions asked on the network (aside from questions about the actual network/company on the meta sites, of course).

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If SE started doing this, they'd be bankrupt and on their arse begging for odd jobs within a year:

  1. I've seen how much a good lawyer gets paid. It's disgraceful. In fact I've seen NGO's where the General Secretary (boss) earns less than their lawyer.

  2. As soon as you dispense official law advice, you open up a world of pain if it's wrong. Who do they contact when they get sued because they got bad advice? Whose going to defend them?

  3. People will take advantage of this for all sorts of reasons, so if you're paying them on a per-question basis, soon the costs will skyrocket.

Also, lawyers are not experts on everything. There might be IP questions, Trademark questions, Copyright questions, Fair employment questions. And what's true in one country may be blatantly false in another country. So are you going to hire a lawyer from every expertise in every country to answer the questions?

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Reliable legal advice, on a global site (implying various jurisdictions), without knowing the specific legal situation of the asker? I'd rather go for something less ambitious, like the universal translator or proving P == NP.

No, seriously, to list the major pitfalls:

  • jurisdiction (well, the server is in Kinakuta, the company is incorporated in Elbonia and clients access it from Eurasia, which has specific laws concerning this kind of thing)
  • status of the asker (natural person? corporation? what exact and specific types thereof? any applicable exemptions for people born in 1983 who lived in Ohio in 1990 and relocated to Florida in 2002?)
  • accuracy in time (any advice older than a year is pretty much guaranteed to be outdated)
  • responsibility (hiring a lawyer means someone is responsible for the advice. Would it be the lawyer? Or SE?)
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re your last question I'd ask a lawyer... –  Tobias Kienzler May 5 '11 at 11:05
    
@Tobias Kienzler: Yes, I'd ask a lawyer, too; I wouldn't search for something which might (or not) be relevant, posted on the Internet by someone who says xe's a lawyer, and supports that claim it by having a § character after his name (but, but, but, the same website also says xe's a lawyer! It was on the Internet, it must be true! - in other words, unless this can somehow be integrated into the existing offline web of trust (bar associations etc), I don't see how it could be trustworthy - see e.g. this (o the heresy!) answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090709074118AAYhOKz ). –  Piskvor May 5 '11 at 12:09

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