LegalZoom and Other DIY Legal Websites
I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about LegalZoom and other websites that help you “DIY” your legal issues. Specifically, whether or not it’s a good idea to use these types of websites and DIY services for your legal needs, whether it be for your estate planning or for your contracts when forming a business. So, the purpose of this post is simply to give my thoughts not topic. I certainly don’t mean to call out LegalZoom, I just name them because they are the largest and most popular of these types of sites.
While LegalZoom and the like can sometimes be a good service, I always advise people to proceed with caution. Some of the documents and some of the types of things you can get from these websites can be just fine for certain types of people and certain needs; you get a boilerplate template document, whether it be a will or trust agreement, or operating agreement or some other contract for your business. And these are sometimes okay for some people. But I am of the mindset that when it comes to your estate planning or business, or really any other legal issue, “just okay” or “just fine” is just not good enough.
The problem with LegalZoom and similar websites is that they are not attorneys; they cannot practice law or give legal advice. It is just a company offering boilerplate documents that they, somewhat, tailor to fit your situation by simply plugging in the information that you give them. Because you are working with a computer and not an attorney, the computer is not going to know to ask you certain questions, or that there are certain issues that should be addressed or should be brought up in your situation. And that’s really the biggest benefits to working with an attorney to get a will or a contract written up to start your business. We went through at least three years of legal education and training (I have the student loans to prove it!); we had a lot of education to learn how to spot issues that will come up with clients. And because, typically, the people who use these websites haven’t gone to law school, they also don’t have the education or the training to make themselves aware of certain issues that should be pointed out or addressed.
For example, with estate planning, there could be situations with your family where you are in a blended family or second marriage. There are issues that come up in that situation that need to be addressed with your estate plan. These websites usually won’t know to ask those questions, or be able to work them in to a personalized, specific way to fit your situation.
And it’s the same problem for the purpose of starting a business. Some of these boilerplate contracts may be fine for smaller transactions or smaller jobs, or very typical run-of-the-mill transactions. But if you are starting a business, let’s say, and have some partners, there are some very real issues that may come up that these websites won’t be able to ask you or won’t be able to advise you on. And even if some of these errors or mistakes might be pretty small, these little errors can oftentimes lead to big consequences and big problems, which usually aren’t realized until it is too late. For example, somebody dies and their will is now going through probate or if there is a conflict between business partners. That’s when small issues are noticed and potentially turn into big problems.
Finally, the biggest benefit that I find from working with an attorney over using these sorts of DIY websites for your legal needs is that you are working with a real, live person one-on-one. In order to get our license to practice law, we must agree to work under these rules of ethics, and part of those ethical rules is that we have to be zealous advocates for our clients. So we are always going to have our client’s best interest in mind and we are going to be aware, and make sure we are aware, of things that could affect our client. But these companies and these websites are not law firms or lawyers who can give advice. They don’t have these ethical requirements to really advocate and look out for their client. So if there is a change in the law, or if something comes up that could affect your estate plan or your business, these websites, as far as I know, aren’t going to alert you to that and are not going to do anything to make sure that you are still going to be protected. That’s where the benefit of working with an attorney comes in; that’s what we are here for: to make sure that you are going to be taken care of all the time.
Of course these websites are cheaper than attorneys, I know that. But when you are dealing with these important legal issues that could later affect your family or your business or money or even your livelihood, in most cases it is better to invest that initial expense in working with an attorney to make sure that you are doing everything in the best way you can.
Again, that’s just my two cents. I don’t think there is anything really wrong with using those websites. For some people, the services they provide are just fine. But, in general, I think that people are better off working personally with an attorney. And I’m not just saying this because I am an attorney, I’m saying it because I know about the law and I know how these things work.
If you have any questions or comments, or have had a good or bad experience with these websites, please comment them. I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughts on the topic.