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If someone who is not a lawyer is giving out legal advice, does it make any difference if they include a disclaimer along the lines of "this is not legal advice"?

For the purposes of this question, I assume legal advice means one party instructing another party on how to comply with laws (like a consultant might do).

Do they disclaim some kind of liability? Do they merely avoid suggesting they are lawyers when they're not?

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    Just FYI - You might also see "IANAL, but the defendant..." where "IANAL" stands for "I am not a lawyer". (Just in case someone sees that at work and doesn't want to Google it.) – BruceWayne Mar 7 at 15:26
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    To me, this always sounds like "no copyright infringement intended" or "this is fair use" in the description of a clearly violating video on YouTube. – xehpuk Mar 7 at 19:59
  • This is not legal advice, but go check out law.stackexchange.com/q/683/22099 – user45266 Mar 10 at 5:05
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In most jurisdictions, practicing law without a bar license is a serious offence, which, inter alia, is the primary reason why a non-lawyer would use this disclaimer.

Lawyers also use this disclaimer to avoid any 'constructive implication' of attorney-client relationship.

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    How is giving advice equal to "practicing law"? – pipe Mar 7 at 15:07
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    @pipe: It doesn't need to be equal, it's sufficient that giving legal advice is part of practicing law. Note the adjective legal advice, financial advice would be another matter. – MSalters Mar 7 at 15:34
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    @pipe quick tangent: I used to be an engineer. In Canada, engineering is a "protected profession" (like lawyer, you need to be part of the order and have a permit to practice). As an engineer (and I was a software one), almost everything I was saying could legally be understood as "engineering advice". I give you tips on how to make a reno in your house (being the least DIY guy myself): I'm liable for it. I legally can't use "this is not engineering advice"... but if I could... I would've :p – Patrice Mar 7 at 18:06
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    @Patrice - A follow-on with interesting context from the US. If someone carries the "Profesional Engineer" certification in the US, and you are aware of it, you can hold the same thing true. It was also found here if you know someone is a PE, then you can use their advice as official advice. – Kortuk Mar 7 at 23:27
  • @kortuk thanks for the context. I am always surprised by how every american is an 'engineer'. I guess its Engineer vs PE. I can't do such a distinction. The closest I can say is that I have a degree in software engineering. Not that i am an engineer. – Patrice Mar 8 at 0:15
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This is not legal advice.

If I say "this is not legal advice", and you rely on what I say, and try to sue me if everything goes pear shaped, then a judge will laugh you out of court.

If I don't say "this is not legal advice", there is a 99% chance that the judge will laugh you out of court. I'll cover the one percent.

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    I do not really understand that 1%. If I tell someone on an Internet forum "this is legal advice", how can they turn that into an argument in their favour in court? I am a random Internet bot who provides random internet advice in an anonymous context. – WoJ Mar 7 at 15:03
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    @WoJ I think gnasher's point was that even though most of the time a judge will take a look at the argument "since I followed the advice of a person on the internet, they're now my lawyer" and laugh you out of court, there's a small chance that a judge might take the claim seriously, and warm to the idea that there was something special about this case where you did pass yourself off as a lawyer, or establish an attorney-client relationship because of it. Given the major disaster that would be, a CYA by making it explicit is a minor price. (Lawyers are all about the CYA.) – R.M. Mar 7 at 15:57
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    @WoJ It's not just for a lawyer, it's also for laymen to avoid being accused of practicing law without a license. – Dean MacGregor Mar 7 at 17:01
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    @only_pro I use "IANAL" all the time, and my intent is mainly "Take what I say with a grain of salt" – Barmar Mar 7 at 17:44
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    @only_pro isn't that why there's a casual assumption that it's legally prudent to add the disclaimer? The law is very fuzzy about how smart it's reasonable to assume people are, and I would hope, as a seasoned not-a-lawyer, that where in doubt it errs on protecting those who are... not so smart. – Will Mar 7 at 17:50
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If you're talking with a friend, a disclaimer like this should not be necessary, as they know you're not a lawyer, and you're just expressing lay opinion, personal anecdotes, etc.

But if you're in a context where the audience doesn't know who you are, there's a possibility that they might assume you're qualified to dispense legal advice. For instance, this very site probably gets many answers from legal professionals, and readers might assume that answers that seem well researched (e.g. citing court cases) are from such posters. If you're not one of them, this might then be construed as practicing law without a license, which could get you legal trouble.

But even if it isn't taken that far, someone might take action that assumes you really know what you're talking about. There might not be legal repercussions on you, but you should still feel bad about leading them the wrong way.

The disclaimer should protect you from any legal liability, and hopefully will also warn people that they should take your advice with a grain of salt. It's easy to state, and there's practically no downside, so it's best to be safe.

Disclaimer: IANAL

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    The problem with this answer is that if you are not a lawyer, you're already protected from legal liability. Saying IANAL is totally useless and does nothing. But if it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, go ahead and use it, I guess. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Mar 7 at 17:46
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    IANAL is shorter than "Take what I say with a grain of salt" or "I may not know what I'm talking about, but..." – Barmar Mar 7 at 17:49
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    My point is that there's no reason to indicate that. It's assumed, unless you claim you're a lawyer. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Mar 7 at 17:59
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    And my point is that it might not always be assumed. I assume lots of answers on this site are from real lawyers. – Barmar Mar 7 at 18:01
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    And read the third paragraph of my answer, there are valid (IMHO) social reasons. – Barmar Mar 7 at 18:24
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If someone who is not a lawyer is giving out legal advice, does it make any difference if they include a disclaimer along the lines of "this is not legal advice"?

The purpose of this disclaimer is to prevent someone from unreasonably relying on the advice while thinking that they are reasonably relying on legal advice. If the person who gave you some advice said it wasn't legal advice, it's hard to argue that you reasonably believed that it was legal advice you could reasonably rely on.

Say you were giving out something that you thought was delicious candy but were not sure wasn't poison. If is also looks like delicious candy, it makes sense for you to warn people that they cannot reasonably rely on your belief that it's not poison because you aren't qualified to tell them apart. You don't want someone to eat it just because you believe it's delicious candy if you aren't sure it's not poison, do you? A fair warning is in order.

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    I'd appreciate an explanation from the downvoter. If this is unclear, I'd like to make it clearer. If anything is incorrect, I'd like to correct it. – David Schwartz Mar 8 at 0:44
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    +1 from me. Interesting analogy to cover the case of a real lawyer who just quickly gave an opinion on the internet, without taking the time to do research like they would to make sure their advice was as sound as possible for a real client. – Peter Cordes Mar 8 at 10:25
  • You don't list case evidence. – user2617804 Mar 10 at 5:41
  • @user2617804 This isn't a question about any particular case or cases, so I'm not sure what you mean by "case evidence". – David Schwartz Mar 10 at 23:10
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In many jurisdictions, there is a general legal principle that people are entitled to trust certain kinds of professional opinion absent they have a particular reason not to. Someone who, e.g., build a balcony without hiring an engineer would have a duty to know what the structural requirements would be. If such a balcony collapsed because of bad design, the builder would be liable for breaching such duty. If, however, the builder were to hire a licensed engineer whose documented professional opinion was that it was safe, the duty to know about structural requirements, and the associated liability, could be transferred to that engineer (the exact circumstances where liability would transfer will vary by jurisdiction).

When a lawyer gives a professional opinion, the layer will often not only giving the client information, but will in many cases also be staking his status as a legal professional on the correctness thereof. A lawyer should not generally be willing to accept such risk without officially documenting all of the information upon which the opinion is based, and the amount of information needed to formulate an opinion that is 95% likely to be correct may be a tiny fraction of what would be needed to formulate an opinion that would be worth staking one's career.

Returning to the balcony example, if someone is considering building a balcony, they may want a rough idea of how much support it will need in order to decide whether the project is worth considering. If the the cost would be massively exceed the budget even given the most favorable ground conditions, there would be no point in ordering an examination of the ground for structural stability. If someone were to misinterpret a quick estimate of structural requirements suggesting that the product was viable, as though it were a reliable structural plan, and if they were to consequently build a balcony that collapsed as a result, the person who gave the estimate should not be liable since they hadn't given a professional opinion as to whether the ground quality was adequate for the suggested footings. Nonetheless, it would still be better for all concerned if the builder had hired a professional engineer.

Disclaimers are cheap. If adding a "No testing or analysis has been done to ensure the safety of this plan" disclaimer would have even a 0.001% chance of preventing someone from wrongfully assuming that the indicated structure could be safely built, that would be worth the cost of ink. Likewise IANAL, "this is not legal advice", etc.

protected by BlueDogRanch Mar 8 at 17:17

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