As an attorney I am often approached by people asking me to look over a legal document to see if it is done right. One of the first questions I ask them is, did you draft this yourself, and if not where did you get it? A common answer is, “I got it online.”
You may have heard of LegalZoom.com. The likelihood is also that you are aware that this website is one of the best known and largest online clearinghouses for legal documentation, endorsed by Robert Shapiro. One question I would like to ask Mr. Shapiro is whether LegalZoom is superior to obtaining the same service from a local practitioner.
So as to be both fair and balanced, I would like to explore the pros and cons of using a LegalZoom.
The Pros: (1) It’s affordable. Legal documents for important purposes such as a company’s LLC or a will and trust are obtainable for what may be less than the local attorney’s fees (a $69 will doesn’t sound bad); (2)It’s fast. The website offers same-day delivery of the documents via downloading; (3) It’s has attorney oversight. It is hard to say who is doing what, but LegalZoom advertises its services with the “warrantability” of attorneys working behind the scene.
Read, however, LegalZoom’s full disclaimer:
“LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney…
LegalZoom is not permitted to engage in the practice of law. LegalZoom is prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies…
Therefore, if you need legal advice for your specific problem, or if your specific problem is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area. Visitors to our site may obtain information regarding free or low cost representation through your state bar association or local legal aid office.”
The Cons: (1) LegalZoom is not a ‘substitute’. You are not getting the advice of an attorney!; (2) LegalZoom is not engaged in the practice of law. As such, LegalZoom is not taking on the same liability that an attorney is when he/she is engaged in practicing; this begs the questions if their documents are prepared with the same “duty of care” owed to a client compared to that of a local practitioner; (3) It is not comprehensive, e.g. “if your specific problem is too complex…” Therefore, if your problem is too complex LegalZoom will not suffice for competent legal help. This also begs the question as to how one will know if their problem is complex unless they speak to a qualified attorney?
I am not one to shun or disparage an affordable and convenient service, unless I feel a consumer could end up getting injured in the end. One can relate, especially if they have met with an attorney, that very few legal problems are “simple” – thus why one went to seek the counsel of an attorney rather than attempt to figure it out on their own. Yet, in all fairness to LegalZoom, there are some sophisticated consumers who are both learned in legal matters and laws – though not attorneys – who can utilize LegalZoom to their advantage. Saving money and time is unsually a good thing; but, when “self-help” ends up costing more time and money in the end because of a critical error or lack of oversight, the regret can be profound. So, as with anything like LegalZoom use it with caution and avoid taking a cavalier approach to solving a legal problem.