I had intended to write this blog many moons ago, before I had even launched the blog. However, in that time I have found several blogs by fellow virtual law attorneys that address the issue rather succinctly (and bluntly). And so I just wanted to highlight and remind. In this ever expanding world of social media, explosive increases in internet users, and passive traffic of the world wide web, everyone is looking to either use or make a dollar off of the quick and easy, one touch services. This includes law firms and so-called legal service providers. The carefully crafted skirting of professional ethics rules (or not so careful as the case may be.) has allowed companies like Legal Zoom to become document mills for an unknowing public hoping to combine their primetime legal knowledge with a cheap legal documents that in end may be more dangerous than doing nothing at all.
Trust me, in this economy and the fears that burn deep in the pit of our stomachs every morning, the prospect of paying legal fees for a “simple will” is a hard decision, especially if you are looking at a sizable firm with high billable hour rates. But consider what you actual know about the people providing the document. Also consider what it is you are trying to accomplish, namely, protecting or directing your hopes and desires through the force of the law. A form filled document simply does not address your particular situation, nor does it explain to you the actual ramifications and obligation you may create from signing. This requires communication and interpretation.
As an attorney, this is just appalling. Under our oaths and our rules of ethics and our respect for the integrity of the law and the desires of our clients, this is a hard to watch. We, as attorneys, use forms all the time, but that is because we are trained to sift through the language in order to make all required corrections for a particular situation. We also know to advise our client of the liabilities and obligations that will arise from a particular document. These “document mills” potentially sell you the rope your hang yourself. Their focused market are those that don’t have an attorney on retainer, who fit into that middle to lower middle class income bracket and who are trying protect their family or their business at a low cost. If this is you, consider that you may not be best served by a will. Depending on your actual assets, the probate code in the state where you live, and other factors you in may be more trouble administratively to deal with your estate through a will document. (You probably don’t need a prenuptial agreement either.) Or consider they dangers of starting a business with a friend. Someone puts up the money, the other one downloads a partnership agreement. Who’s liable? What are the liabilities partnership for the debts of one of partners? But these concerns are washed away through waivers and releases. (the most legally binding document on the whole site). These are the types of issues that are not resolved, except in broad strokes.
Please understand that 1) I have seen many companies formed and many wills filled out using the Legal Zooms and StandardLegals of the internet with little or no fuss; 2) cost will always be an issue; and 3) most disputes arriving from agreements end up being resolved or abandoned. (I know you want to argue that point, but when was the last time you sued your phone company?) However, in light of that I think it is a very important message to get out. Legal services, although grossly overrated at times, are necessary evil of the society that we live in. As my parents told me recently, “these days you can’t do anything without a lawyer.” In the long run, it is better to have good advise than a piece of paper. Take the time to reach out and find a good attorney, and more importantly don’t sign documents on the blind faith that you are getting what you paid for.
For some more reading on the subject, I highly recommend Stephanie Kimbro’s article at the Virtual Law Practice blog.