Although not the most common abbreviation on the Internet, IANAL is sometimes used on sites such as Twitter, Quora, and Reddit. But what does IANAL mean, and why do people say it?
I am not a lawyer
IANAL is an internet initialism meaning «I’m not a lawyer». It is commonly used by non-lawyers who want to clarify that their legal opinions are not legal advice. Clarifications like this are important online, as you may face lawsuits or prosecution for providing legal advice (or acting as a lawyer) without a legal license. (However, non-lawyers rarely face real consequences for casual legal advice.)
In some cases, IANAL is used by incumbent lawyers who wish to issue free legal opinions without forming an attorney-client relationship. Entering into an online attorney-client relationship is not just an inconvenience, but can also be illegal, as a lawyer may not have jurisdiction to practice law outside of their state.
YANIL and TINLA
«IANYL» is similar. It means «I’m not your lawyer». This can be used by someone who wants to clarify that they are a lawyer but do not provide professional legal advice or are in an attorney-client relationship with you.
Similarly, «TINLA» means «This is not legal advice.» People use these expressions to clarify that they do not provide professional legal advice online.
Do people actually say IANAL?
IANAL is an incredibly unpopular piece of internet slang. Most people have never heard of it, and it doesn’t make much sense outside of Quora or the Reddit /r/legaladvice forum. So why IANAL?
Oddly enough, IANAL has been around since the late 80s. It was a semi-popular phrase about Usenet and ARPANET, the two predecessors of the Internet. As history suggests, pre-Internet lawyers coined IANAL to clarify that while they were giving legal opinions online, they were not entering into an attorney-client relationship or acting outside of their jurisdiction. (It could also be an accidental reference to the proto-meme «I’m not a doctor, but I play on TV».)
Over time, Usenet and ARPANET lawyers discovered IANAL’s error. This phrase proved useful during heated discussions about landlords, car accidents, or politics. IANAL can be used when presenting a discussion («IANAL, but shouldn’t homeopathy be illegal?») or when giving your opinion on a legal topic («IANAL, but you should sue for defamation»).
It’s hard to see how IANAL can be a useful initialism. After all, it only takes a second to type «I’m not a lawyer.» So should you use IANAL at all? And if you do, will anyone know what you’re talking about?
Should you use IANAL?
You should always clarify that you are not a lawyer when you provide legal opinions online. People can be quite impressionable (or stupid) on the Internet, and it would be a shame if they read your random divorce opinions as professional legal advice. After all, it’s illegal to misrepresent yourself as a lawyer.
But you have to say IANAL? Will people really understand what you’re talking about and will they search for your strange internet language on Google?
In most cases, we suggest that you clarify your status as a non-lawyer in terms that everyone understands. You can say «I’m not a lawyer» or «You should talk to a lawyer» before giving your random legal opinion. These phrases only take one second and are much easier to understand than IANAL.
In some situations, IANAL maybe be useful, but they are quite specific. For example, you can use IANAL in the title of a Reddit thread or in a tweet that is approaching the character limit. But even in these situations, you could clarify that you are not a lawyer in your Reddit thread or in your reply to your tweet.
You won’t get nearly as much benefit from IANAL as you would from TLDR or FWIW, but it’s a classic bit of internet slang that’s worth understanding. However, we recommend that you avoid using IANAL because most people have no idea what it means. If you want to say that you are not a lawyer, then you should probably do it in plain language.
By the way, IANAL. I’m just a technical writer and IANAL expert with flashcards.