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tl;dr:

I've often seen the disclaimer "I am not a lawyer" abbreviated as "IANAL".

And I've often seen the disclaimer "this is not legal advice" abbreviated as "TINLA".

Is it legally just as effective to use the abbreviations as disclaimers by themselves, instead of using their full form disclaimers? Or are people wasting space and time by adding "IANAL" or "TINLA" to their writing?


too long; don't read:

There seems to be plenty of debate about whether such disclaimers (either in full form or abbreviated) are even required at all, for example, in these questions. (FWIW, I think equivalent disclaimers apply site-wide within Law Stack Exchange, as stated in the Tour and Help Center.) But I'm probably using the wrong terminology, because everything I find in Internet searches pertains to style/grammar of abbreviation usage generally, or to using vs. avoiding these specific disclaimers generally (regardless of form), whereas I'm wondering about the validity of the abbreviations specifically, as valid legal substitutes for their full forms.

In other words, if someone writes just "IANAL" or "TINLA"...

  • Does it have the same legal effect as if they had written "I am not a lawyer" or "this is not legal advice" (respectively)?

Or...

  • Is it legally equivalent to having omitted the disclaimer entirely, i.e. effectively useless?

Not sure if this rabbit hole is relevant, but thinking about it some more, I wonder if it might boil down to questions of a more general nature:

  • (A) Within a self-contained written work, does an abbreviation have the same legal effect as its full form (even in the complete absence of the full form or any other explicit definition of the abbreviation from the written work)?

  • (B) Are there specific requirements regarding which abbreviations qualify to legally represent which specific full forms?

At the time of this writing, Wikipedia's List of legal abbreviations states that:

It is common practice in legal documents to cite to [sic?] other publications by using standard abbreviations for the title of each source. Abbreviations may also be found for common words or legal phrases. Such citations and abbreviations are found in court decisions, statutes, regulations, journal articles, books, and other documents [emphasis added].

Though these statements are currently unsourced[citation needed] and may not represent a worldwide view of the subject, they seem to suggest that (A) might be true. Is there a formal legal definition for this somewhere?

For (B), definitions for "IANAL" and "TINLA" seem to be absent from common legal definitions at this time, for example, Wikipedia's list and some of the online resources linked there:

Yet definitions for "IANAL" seem to be commonly found online, and similarly for "TINLA" (perhaps less-so, but still common) — so common as to be entirely unambiguous, by my assessment. So is this sufficient for them to qualify as valid legal abbreviations for their respective full form disclaimers of "I am not a lawyer" and "this is not legal advice"?

  • tl;dr: ; or, you're beating a dead horse that's been stuffed down a rabbit hole. The acronyms are good enough here, because they are perfectly readable, intelligible and can't be reasonably mistaken for any other interpretation. And, this site is not for or intended as legal advice and users do not establish any attorney-client relationship, so any legal requirements for documents to not contain acronyms are irrelevant here. Read the sidebar. – BlueDogRanch Jan 8 at 6:47
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    The OP is not primarily asking about the usage on this site. – Dale M Jan 8 at 6:55
  • Depends on context. The question is whether a reader in the circumstance where it matters would readily understand what it means. – ohwilleke Jan 8 at 19:01
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Stating "This is not blue" or "TINB" on something that is self-evidently blue is of no legal effect

Legal advice has the following characteristics:

  • Requires legal knowledge, skill, education and judgment
  • Applies specific law to a particular set of circumstances
  • Affects someone's legal rights or responsibilities
  • Creates rights and responsibilities in the advice-giver

If the advice you give meets these criteria then it is legal advice.

However, if you are clear that you are not a lawyer and that you are not giving legal advice then this undermines the characteristics above. That is, what would be legal advice without such a disclaimer may lose that characteristic if the disclaimer is genuinely given in the particular circumstances. Context matters: "this is not legal advice (wink, wink)" is not a disclaimer and doesn't turn legal advice into not legal advice.

Similarly, the disclaimer must be genuinely understood by the recipient so that they are adequately warned to do their own research or seek actual legal advice before taking the course of action outlined. Using an abbreviation is more likely to be misunderstood but, again, context matters. In the context of this particular site (see various meta questions), which goes out of its way to explain that this is not legal advice the disclaimer is hardly necessary and the abbreviation would be fine.


More generally

Communication is always under tension between clarity and brevity. It should be detailed enough that it can be understood by its audience but not so long that its audience switches off.

Abbreviations, acronyms, symbols and jargon (all of which I’m going to abbreviate to abbreviations) sacrifice clarity for brevity. Depending on the context and the target audience an abbreviation may or may not need to be spelled out in full.

In formal writing, it is good practice to spell them out when first used and put the abbreviated form in parenthesis immediately afterward. Alternatively, scientific and engineering reports may use a glossary at the front or back to list them all in one place.

It is extremely good practice to explain these abbreviations in any document that is intended to have direct legal consequences like legislation or a contract. Here clarity is waaaay more important than brevity. In a similar vein, it is quite common for such documents to explicitly define real words that already exist to narrow or broaden their scope in the interests of clarity.

However, sufficiently common abbreviations may not be spelled out even in these. For example, USA, UN, UK, and EU are in such common usage that they would not need to be spelled out. Similarly, state or province abbreviations would not need explanation within their own country - while an American should know what IA means they might struggle with NSW.

Similarly, some contractions may be so common within a profession or industry that no explanation is needed. For example, no scientist or engineer would need to be told what Pa, N, and m mean.

In more informal settings (like texts or WhatsApp chats) spelling them out would make you look like a pompous dickhead.

If it's sufficiently clear that a reasonable person in the position of the recipient would understand it then legal consequences can flow from it. Ultimately the decision of it it was clear would be a matter for whoever was deciding any dispute about it.

  • Pedantic note: "Pa" is not a contraction of "pascal", it is the symbol for it. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 8 at 9:01
  • @MartinBonnersupportsMonica or an abbreviation if you like – Dale M Jan 8 at 9:24
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    Nope. Not an abbreviation. From the SI brochure "Unit symbols are mathematical entities and not abbreviations" (Section 5.1 - page number in the top left is 130, but Chrome thinks it is page 38) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 8 at 9:33
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    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica I stand corrected – Dale M Jan 8 at 10:04
  • Thanks @DaleM for this thorough explanation! Still trying to wrap my head around it, but a couple key points I take away from this are: 1) any text — abbreviated or not — is potentially valid, but is always subject to interpretation; 2) consequently, context is significant in choosing the right text, since it might change how that text is interpreted. From that, I think it follows that writing "IANAL" or "TINLA" instead of their full forms should be perfectly fine if they would reasonably be interpreted correctly in their given context. Am I on the right track? Or still way out to lunch? – Chris Tollefson Jan 9 at 5:32

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