[linux-elitists] IANAL, TINLA

Mister Bad mr.bad@pigdog.org
Wed May 26 10:48:00 PDT 2004

Anyone who's spent any reasonable amount of time around intelligent
people on the Innurnet knows that "IANAL, TINLA" means "I am not a
lawyer, this is not legal advice." We use these terms when discussing
legal issues.

My question is: why? I've always assumed that we do it to avoid the
appearance of practicing law without a license, which is illegal in a
lot of US states, as well as to avoid the appearance of setting up a
client-attorney relationship, which entails some responsibilities from
both parties.

But the more I think about it, the more ridiculous this sounds. First,
I can't believe that in a democracy, people cannot discuss the laws of
their country, state, or city without the appearance of "practicing
law". Law affects everyone, and not just lawyers talk about it. It
seems quite dangerous for free speech that discussing government
policy without being careful could cost you fines or possibly jail

Second, it beggars comprehension that anyone could consider anything
as personal legal advice that comes through a broadcast medium. When I
read in the newspaper that a new law will raise taxes for people with
annual income between $50K and $100K, it would be unreasonable for me
to assume that the newspaper reporter is giving _me_, Rufus Q. Bad,
particular and personal legal advice. Few except prime ministers and
schizophrenics interpret broadcast media messages as personal advice.

Lastly, legal advice seems like such a special and important form of
speech that it should and probably is _positively_ tagged, rather than
_negatively_ tagged. In other words, we should be able to assume that
anything people say is _not_ legal advice, unless they actually say
that it is. So, rather than me going into a corner store and saying,
"I am not a lawyer, nice day outside, isn't it? This is not legal
advice, I need a loaf of bread, please," it seems that lawyers would
normally say, "I'm speaking as your attorney, now, and giving you this
advice: blah blah blah blah blah." Not least because that's they're
getting paid for, so they should at least tell what you're paying good
money for.

So, as a question to my audience of some of the finest non-lawyers in
the land: am I way off on the reasons for saying "IANAL, TINLA"? If
not, are there good arguments why these reasons aren't ridiculous?

~Mr. Bad, not a lawyer

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