In centuries past, the legal profession was highly selective about the individuals who were permitted to dispense legal advice. Attorneys were generally regarded as highly competent and generally ethical in providing legal services. This began to change a few decades ago when law schools began to proliferate as lawyer mills and with little interest other than making as much money as possible from naïve college grads who would happily take out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans from the government and private agencies for the promise of a lucrative, exciting, and purportedly socially important profession. In the past few years the legal industry has sunk to a new low when some factions within it began to convince the public that law practice is nothing more than filling in the blanks on forms, and the public bought it; as it did so many other epic con jobs perpetrated by the powers that be.
The proliferation of online discount self-serve legal providers has convinced the public that they are qualified to draft highly significant and specialized legal documentation which could have severe repercussions down the road if not drafted properly with the specific situation of the user(s) in mind. Now, anyone with zero legal education, or even zero formal education, could purchase a standard form, fill in the blanks online, pay the nominal fee, and remain convinced they are protected in a variety of personal and business transactions, when in reality such users should not be resting comfortably at night.
For instance, wills, trusts, and business entity formation documents are just a few of those routinely peddled to the unsuspecting masses using a blitzkrieg of marketing hype and hollow promises. A simple search of reviews for any of these services will reveal a throng of dissatisfied and angry customers who found their documentation was greatly delayed or just not provided in full, filled with errors, caused disputes in the contemplated transaction, or were not sufficient for what the purchased document was supposed to accomplish. But this is just the beginning of the potential pitfalls of acting as one’s own business legal counsel.
The main consequence of doing one’s own legal work without understanding what a customized legal document must include and exclude is the threat of very significant repercussions down the road, sufficient to ruin one’s business, when Legalzoom or any other online legal services provides no longer have any responsibility for their product. For instance, wills and trusts commonly fail because they contain errors and omissions which ejects them from legal compliance with state requirements. As a result improperly drafted documents are thrown out and the expense of estate administration may bankrupt the estate.
Such documents regularly neglect to list some important piece of personal property or place some piece of property into a trust, they may fail to properly specify an independent executor who is to serve without bond, or a fail to state a contingent beneficiary/executor, fail to list proper addresses where various parties may be found, and fail to include necessary provisions regarding distributions or previous relationships and children. There are also many issues which may arise from improper execution of a will or trust. Trusts fail and are sued regularly due to mismanagement, and the creation and maintenance of a trust simply cannot be entrusted to someone who has had a trust created by Legalzoom which then provided a two page instruction manual on how to manage it. A trust offers no liability protection, and it should only be used for specific limited situations.
The formation of a business entity is a highly specialized process which requires the understanding of complex state codes, and it cannot be properly performed by a dilettante non-attorney discount mail service that believes the mere registration of the entity with the state will provide all the liability protection needed to safely conduct business without risking the owner’s personal assets. This misunderstanding is perpetuated by online discount services, which provide atrocious and incomplete off-the-shelf documentation for such new entities, and it inures to the extreme detriment of their customers, who are not educated enough to know any better. You may as well trash that operating agreement you received from any self-serve legal service provider: its worthless.
As a final word of caution, if you choose to use such a service to provide you with legal documentation you are doing so at your own peril. This, and many other legitimate law firms will charge you substantial fees for fixing, correcting, redrafting or restructuring such poorly drafted “fill-in-the-blanks” documents, as if they are being created from scratch, when they fail to meet your needs and expectations, the discovery of which may come too late to fix the problem you were trying to avoid by paying for the documents. Save yourself the time, stress, and expense and retain a qualified licensed knowledgeable experienced attorney who not only understands the pertinent law, will customize documents to your needs, but also be there after the fact to fully counsel you in their application and use. The value and peace of mind you will receive for the expertise of knowledgeable legal counsel by far outweighs the costs of doing so.