February 2, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Is there any sound legal reason why people use IANAL after posting an opinion about a legal matter? Supposing there is, is IANAL enough? If someone was led to believe YANAL but YKWYWTA (you know what you were talking about), could you still be sued for negligent misstatement if someone followed your opinion to their detriment? Shouldn't the disclaimer be stronger?

Oh by the way, I hereby waive any claim whatsoever against you, should any of your opinions below lead me to do something which causes me damage. I acknowledge that should I follow your advice, it would be completely at my own risk! .... Now THAT's a disclaimer ;)
posted by vizsla to Law & Government (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nope, people just use it to indicate that they are laypeople, with a layperson's understanding of legal matters, as apposed to a legal professional.

Legal professionals will sometimes start or end a post on legal matters with "IAAL, but I am not your lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice". This is meant to avoid legal problems with someone who used the advice and ran into trouble, but it is only an issue for legal professionals (if that).

Of course, IANAL, so none of that may be exactly spot on.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2007

I think it is more protection from KIA's on MeFi than anything else. There always are killjoys that pop up saying not to give advice if you are not properly certified to give that advice. I've noticed that using "IANAL" seems to slow them down a bit.
posted by JJ86 at 2:04 PM on February 2, 2007

IANAL, but this should really be discussed on MetaTalk.
posted by baphomet at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2007

IANAL is internetwide, not mefi specific.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: baphomet: "IANAL, but this should really be discussed on MetaTalk."

"IANAL" was used long before Metafilter existed and is presently in much wider usage than Metafilter. Furthermore the answer to the question above might depend on the forum the disclaimer is used in, so has wider implications than to Metafilter alone.
posted by vizsla at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: Possibly the first ever use of IANAL on the internet can be found here.
posted by vizsla at 2:24 PM on February 2, 2007

It could be used to fed off charges of unlicensed practice of law, which is a crime in some states. Although it's probably not realistic to assume that most "IANAL"-users are familiar with this law and are affirmatively trying to stay on the right side of it.

Attorneys who post usually say that "I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice" in an effort to avoid creating a fiduciary duty to anyone; once you do start to counsel someone, your state Bar rules might require you to continue to do so, or at the very least avoid conflicts of interest with that person both now and in the future. Here's the rub, though: simply putting on that disclaimer probably is not enough, they must also actually not offer legal advice. This is why you will see attorneys who post online speak in abstractions and hypotheticals, and avoid actually answering your particular question.
posted by rkent at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2007

It's pure rhetoric. It's essentially the equivalent of "I am not quite sure about what I'm going to say, but here goes anyway."

It has no legal effect whatsoever.
Supposedly it is to make clear that what follows is not legal advice, the idea being that someone somehow might sue for damages if they followed your wrong "legal advice".

Of COURSE it's not legal advice. If it were legal advice, someone would pay for it. In fact, there's an old adage in jurisprudence, which says "If you don't pay me, then I shall not give you any legal advice." People who think that some dude writes on a public blog might constitute legal advice really shouldn't be allowed to use the internets.
posted by sour cream at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Because MeAnal would be still less grammatical.

To me, the interesting question is whether it is more prevalent than IANAD[octor] or IANAVeterinarian or IANAM[ental]H[ealth]P[rofessional].

If it is, that may indicate that (a) people believe it is easier to sound, misleadingly, like one is a real attorney (perhaps because the expertise seems much more attainable, or because of an exaggerated sense of one's own proficiency), or (b) people are more afraid that real attorneys will get in a dander if they don't make such a disclaimer (and, maybe, sue them) or (c) people hate lawyers so much they will do anything to distance themselves (e.g., "IANAL, but I think the best way to make a flourless cake is . . . ").
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2007


"IAAL, but..." is also motivated by pride and training:

"IAAL, but I want to fully explore the facts and give the best opinion possible. So your unverified internets fact pattern merits a highly qualified, hedged answer that is worth what you paid for it.

I'm bothering to answer primarily because I'm been mystified as to how anyone functions in the world without law school, so I will try to lay a small corner of it out for you. I hope it helps.

(I do wish, though, that everyone in the U.S. and U.K. were forcecd to learn the rules surrounding the termination of a month-to-month residential tenancy for the SATs or the O-levels so that they'd stop asking on askme.)"
posted by Phred182 at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this should be in MeTa. When they delete this question (which they will) you should post it there.
posted by koeselitz at 3:48 PM on February 2, 2007

Well, I know that licensing boards for other professions can be piqued by even absurd references to being licensed. Like, say there was a business called, "Burrito Engineers." The state Board of Professional Engineers would possibly take notice. So, I throw around IANA* just in case I accidentally say something that might lead one to think otherwise. Also, it's an Internet social tradition and Internet acronyms in general give you that irrational warm, fuzzy in-crowd feeling. It's also an excuse to say, "but..." and point out my Cliff Claven-esque claims to expertise.
posted by Skwirl at 3:49 PM on February 2, 2007

Also, IANAL is an alienating acronym. mathowie (the moderator here) is on record saying he doesn't like acronyms like this, because they're confusing to 'outsiders;' I tend to agree. Don't do it. Please
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 PM on February 2, 2007

Skwirl: "Also, it's an Internet social tradition and Internet acronyms in general give you that irrational warm, fuzzy in-crowd feeling."

...because it's an in-joke that a minority of your audience probably understands.
posted by koeselitz at 3:52 PM on February 2, 2007

"Yeah, this should be in MeTa."

No, it shouldn't. It's not a MeFi-specific usage, and the questioner does not assume it is in the question. "Is there any sound legal reason why people use IANAL" is what was asked, not "Is there any sound legal reason why people here use IANAL".

That USENET occurrence of IANAL might be the earliest, yes, or it could have been around earlier. By the time I was on USENET a couple of years later it was already common. Further searching indicates that by later in 1990 it was not only used, but often used with out explanation, so either the earlier 1990 usage spread quickly, or it was used before that.
posted by litlnemo at 4:09 PM on February 2, 2007

Also, in-joke? There are few acronyms more commonly used than IANAL. It's right up there with LOL.


posted by litlnemo at 4:11 PM on February 2, 2007

(well, more commonly used in the circles I post in, I guess. I'd venture that it's far more common than LOL there, because places like MeFi frown on lots of LOLing.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:12 PM on February 2, 2007

litlnemo: "Also, in-joke? There are few acronyms more commonly used than IANAL."

Maybe by people who frequent message-boards and newsgroups and blogs on the internet. But not by anybody else. Have you ever heard anybody say "IANAL?"

The best thing about MeFi is that anybody and everybody feels somewhat comfortable posting here. My mother, for example, would have no clue what IANAL means. I'd like it if people like her could ask a question without getting inscrutable answers.
posted by koeselitz at 4:24 PM on February 2, 2007

koeselitz, I don't think editorializing about the use of IANAL is called for here; it has nothing to do with the actual question at all. Askme isn't supposed to be a soapbox. You don't like IANAL. Great. We're thrilled. Really.

viszla: Personally, I use IANAL when I want to be very clear that, while my opinion may (or may not, depending) sound educated and intelligent, it may also be wrong. It's a little reminder that outside, expert help is better than what I'm posting. I'm identifying myself as an interested layperson, rather than an expert. There are fields where I am fairly expert: law is not one of them.

It's just basic politeness, in my opinion. I don't think you can be held liable for incorrect legal advice if you aren't directly claiming to be a lawyer.

IANAL is not for MY benefit, it's for the benefit of the person asking the question.
posted by Malor at 5:35 PM on February 2, 2007

Sorry for participating in a slight derail. rkent's answer sounds right to me. I always understood that IANAL was primarily used to avoid presenting oneself as a lawyer when it might otherwise be interpreted that way.
posted by litlnemo at 5:41 PM on February 2, 2007

IANAL on Wikipedia.
posted by amro at 5:48 PM on February 2, 2007

rkent has it right.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:32 AM on February 3, 2007

With mild skimming dyslexia, IDKWITA looked like DIKWAD to me. Dickwad? What's that mean? It's like a Dik4.
posted by klangklangston at 10:23 PM on May 22, 2007

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