November 30, 2019
I Am Not Advising Legallysmart people don’t understand lawyers’ disclaimers
Lawyers sharing legal information with nonlawyers often throw in something like:
This isn’t legal advice.
This is for informational purposes only.
I’m a lawyer, but not your lawyer.
Smart, educated audiences don’t know what that means. They may understand each and every one of the words, but not what they’re supposed to do when a lawyer says them together. All they can tell is that they make the lawyer feel better, likely by the work of some dark magic.
If you’re giving me information to help guide my decisions, and that information is about the law, isn’t that “advice”, and isn’t it “legal”? What effect does calling that spade not a spade have?
What are “informational purposes”? And how exactly does one “information”?
If you’re not my lawyer, why are you telling me these things? If you’re somebody else’s lawyer, are you speaking for them?
The usual disclaimers are jargon. Jargon doesn’t tell people anything, or why they should care. Which isn’t much help. And breeds further suspicion.
People desperately need good legal information. When I make some available, I try to remind myself to speak and write plainly. I know what I intend people to get from my material. What do I intend people to get from my disclaimer? How do I make sure my words have that effect?
I can’t be professionally responsible to all of you for taking what I’m about to share and running with it. If you need help with the law for an important decision, hire a lawyer you can hold accountable. Make sure you answer all their questions. The answers will help them give the right advice just for you.
This is much longer than “this isn’t legal advice”. I suppose I could cut it down. But I’m not really concerned. Four sentences people can understand and act on are worth something. Four words they can’t are wasted, or worse.
The better you know your law, the less all this matters. The more you work on describing that law without fancy words or legalese, the less all this matters still. But law is hard, and transparency is important. We can’t be lazy on either count.
Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.
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