IANAL is a Usenet and chat abbreviation (acronym) for "I am not a lawyer". A related abbreviation, TINLA, stands for "This is not legal advice" and may be used by either non-lawyers seeking to avoid accusations of unauthorized practice of law or lawyers clarifying that they do not have enough information to provide situation-specific advice and are not making any recommendation to the particular addressee of their remarks.
One or both of these abbreviations usually precede opinions about law. The use of these abbreviations serves as a warning for the reader not to take the opinion as professional legal advice. Many jurisdictions have legal restrictions on actually giving or even appearing to give legal advice, or otherwise practicing as a lawyer without legal qualifications and official registration. Rendition of legal advice by a person who is not licensed to do so can be the basis for a charge of unauthorized practice of law.
Origin and usage
The term appears to be inspired by a 1980s commercial for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup, in which two spokesmen successively pitched the over-the-counter medication with the line, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." The spokesmen were soap opera actors Chris Robinson (who played Dr. Rick Webber on General Hospital) and Peter Bergman (who played Dr. Cliff Warner on All My Children). The transfer from doctor to lawyer is an example of a snowclone. The term IANAL is reported to have been common on Usenet by the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A variant of IANAL is IANYL ("I am not your lawyer"). The term may be used by a lawyer posting comments on a message board to indicate that the commentator is, in fact, a lawyer, but to emphasize that the commentator does not represent the reader, and to indicate that the comments are not protected by attorney–client privilege and that the commenter disclaims any malpractice or other tort liability should the suggestion be followed with undesirable results. IAAL ("I am a lawyer") is sometimes used as well, usually with an explicit disclaimer such as "IAAL, but I'm not your lawyer".
The case law standard for determining what comments cross the line is generally "the application of law to facts specific to an individual seeking legal advice". Attorneys may use a disclaimer to reduce confusion, and "I am not your lawyer" is part of a typical disclaimer. There are "weighty obligations" that go along with the creation of a lawyer-client relationship, particularly if an "online exchange includes legal advice relating to the client's specific facts". Courts have held that (in the case of 900 numbers) boilerplate disclaimers without clear actions to indicate assent may not avoid the creation of a lawyer-client relationship.
Other variations of IANAL refer to different fields, such as IANAMD for "I am not a Medical Doctor." These serve the same general purpose as IANAL — to discourage the use of the information as actual professional advice.
A very common usage on Slashdot and Digg is IANAP, or "I am not a physicist," in discussions related to scientific breakthroughs and their implications. On religious blogs and boards, the same acronym can be expanded as "I am not a priest".
- Jargon File, a glossary of computer programmer slang
- Jason B. Wacha (February 1, 2005). "Taking the case: is the GPL enforceable?". Santa Clara Computer & High Technology Law Journal (University of Santa Clara, School of Law). Retrieved 2008-01-01.
- "Unauthorized Practice of Law Pamphlet" (DOC). Washington State Bar Association. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
A person who provides legal services, who is not a licensed lawyer, or who is not otherwise authorized by law to provide legal services, may be engaging in the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL). In Washington UPL is a crime.
- Arnold Zwicky (October 13, 2005). "Playing One 2". Language Log. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
- Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry (April 27, 2005). "Readers Parse Text-Message Slang". Real Time Exchange (Wall Street Journal). Retrieved 2008-01-01.
- John Steele (April 2002). "Attorney Internet Ethics". California Lawyer. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
An attorney who wants to respond to a chat room question should not give legal advice until the attorney and would-be client have explicitly discussed or created an attorney-client relationship.... Otherwise, the attorney needs to use a written disclaimer in the chat room, stating something like, "This information is given for legal education only. It may not work for your specific situation. It is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer. You have to find your own local lawyer to get legal advice and help with your problem."[dead link]
- Jennifer P. Hopkins (June 1, 2002). "The Ethics of Practicing Law in Cyberspace". New Hampshire Bar Association. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- "Tying knots with light". science.slashdot.org.
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- IANAL at catb.org