Prompted by Are digitally signed documents legally binding? - to which the only answer I can give is "It depends on your jurisdiction!", and related to Are employment law questions off-topic?: do we want to consider all questions of law/legality off-topic?

Over on Server Fault we have explicitly disallowed them in our FAQ, being that the vast majority of us aren't lawyers and the wide variation in legal jurisdictions even just within the US makes the questions hard to answer.


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    Hmm...what about the questions where the answer turns out to be legally based? This answer is a prime example – Rarity Apr 13 '12 at 20:20
  • @Rarity definitely a gray area - on SF we sometimes answer with "and that's not legal where I am so you might want to be careful", but that doesn't make the question a law/legal advice question. IMHO that question is fine because the legal bits in the answer are "extra info" and the question itself isn't asking for legal advice/opinions. Someone who knows a bit about the law is telling the asker to make sure whatever they do is kosher. – voretaq7 Apr 13 '12 at 20:46
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    I agree; I think as long as the essence of the question isn't legal it's fine. Legal questions tend to be impossible to answer anyway, often requiring lawyers or even court rulings to actually answer. – Rarity Apr 13 '12 at 20:50

I voted to close the Are digitally signed documents legally binding? question as too localized.

It's virtually impossible to answer this question. Laws vary from state to state, locality to locality, and country to country. Furthermore, the laws change frequently, and sometimes interpretation of the law may be different than the actual case law.

Since we intend this site to be a resource of helpful information, these questions must be explicitly disallowed and closed. Information is only helpful if it's correct, and since it's impossible to verify the accuracy of that information without consulting an attorney, we must close them.

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    It's also probably fair to say that most people on here are not legal experts in any case. – John N Apr 13 '12 at 7:47
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    @JohnN - Exactly. None of us are qualified to provide accurate information on these issues. In fact, even real lawyers would be wary of posting legal advice due to the legal restrictions on professional positions. A real lawyer could be liable for damages if she posted legal advice that got someone in trouble later. – jmort253 Apr 13 '12 at 8:03
  • This is also true. All the more reason that these are off-topic, I would think. – John N Apr 13 '12 at 8:32
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    @jmort253 not unless the attorney had offered to act as the attorney for the OP. You need to understand how the professional obligation works before you post this urban myth. The question was OT because it was purely a legal question. That does not mean that all questions that touch on legality are off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 13 '12 at 18:35
  • @chad - If an attorney looks for work on a Q&A site, I'd seriously suggest looking into that person's credentials, background, and track record, as I'd imagine most reputable attorneys don't find their clients by soliciting on StackExchange. Furthermore, if the attorney agrees to help the OP, that in no way suggests that *any of that advice can be considered binding for anyone else except a person who has signed an agreement with the attorney. Also, it's not a myth. If you're a professional with a license, at least in the US, and you give someone bad professional advice, you're at fault. – jmort253 Apr 13 '12 at 19:36
  • @Chad - That does not mean that all questions that touch on legality are off topic. I can see your point here, but the problem is how do you avoid making the question not be too localized? How can one word the question so that it is generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.? Now, that quote came from SO's FAQ. It's not in this FAQ, so if you can successfully make the case that this site is not intended for the worldwide audience of the Internet, then that may make the too localized aspect invalid. Good luck! :) – jmort253 Apr 13 '12 at 19:43
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    @Jmort - Check out lawpivot.com - There are other sites just like this. Its basically a ripoff of SE for Legal questions run by lawyers - Find me a law that backs up your claim you give someone bad professional advice, you're at fault it does not exist. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 13 '12 at 19:47
  • @Chad - Ok, will do. Thanks for the link. – jmort253 Apr 13 '12 at 19:47
  • Questions of the form 'Is X legal' are not really workplace questions at all. They are legal questions and should be asked in forum set up for legal questions. That's not to say that many legitimate workplace related can't have a legal component, many do. But we shouldn't go too far in that direction. It's certainly possible in the US for a lawyer to answer general questions about the law, but such a forum needs to be set up with an appropriate format and terms of service to ensure that no user thinks he or she is getting personal legal advice. This isn't that place. – Jim In Texas May 8 '12 at 22:43

Yes, and to be honest, I don't see how you can have site about the workplace and not allow for some sort legality questions to be asked. The catch is that I think there needs to be a custom close option for questions that are going to be along the lines of "Consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction" but for the rest of the questions I can see a fairly straightforward answer coming back that just cites the relevant law. In the United States most HR personnel are going to be fairly familiar with the basic laws in their jurisdiction and possibly even outside of it if they work for an international corporation so it's not like there aren't going to be people on the site that can't answer the questions.

  • The problem I see with all law questions is many people don't specify their jurisdiction (and even saying "I'm in the US" doesn't help with state-to-state differences and the possibility of your little village having passed some obscure code). When you get down to that level of detail the question is too localized ; if you don't get to that level of detail your advice may well be wrong. Catch-22... – voretaq7 Apr 13 '12 at 15:34
  • @voretaq7 - The assumption is that they would say where they are which relates to the question on country tags. – anonymous Apr 13 '12 at 15:57
  • @voretaq7 Nonsense. A question is not too localized just because it's only applicable to a particular country or region. Even in the United States, little villages don't routinely pass labor laws. Please read What questions should be closed with reason “too localized”? If someone doesn't specify their jurisdiction when they should, close as NaRQ (too vague). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 2 '12 at 0:08
  • @Gilles I honestly don't see "legal questions that are too localized" being a big problem - I was (and am) more concerned about people seeking/offering legal advice on anything but the most obvious cases. – voretaq7 May 2 '12 at 4:47

Some legal questions could be on topic. I am thinking of questions about wording in a contract, potential liability, and similar concerns. If the question is purely a matter of law, then it is certainly off topic. But I do not think we should have a rule that says if it is about law at all then it is off topic.

  • I'm not saying any question that touches on law/contracts/etc. should be considered off topic. Taking your example of wording in a contract, questions about the legal implications (like liability) should IMHO be referred to a qualified attorney. Conversely questions like "My new contract includes this clause -- anyone else seen this kind of thing from an employer before?" are fine, though the answer may well be wind up being "Never seen that, looks fishy, you should talk to a lawyer before you sign!" – voretaq7 Apr 13 '12 at 20:55
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    @Vortaq7 - I agree that most of the legal questions will probably be off topic. But I can see some instances where it is not. I do not have a problem with you need a lawyer as an answer to a question that has not been answered for a few days. But we may have someone that has been in the situation and can offer good advice. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 13 '12 at 21:09

The question that was closed is a simple matter of contract law. The sort you'll encounter in any course on business law.

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