When speaking with potential client, I often get asked, “So why shouldn’t I just use a service like LegalZoom?” This is a big question, and requires a big answer. So big, in fact, that I will answer this question in a series of articles over the next couple weeks.
In this series of articles, I will discuss what online legal document generation services really provide its customers. I will compare the document generation services, such as LegalZoom, to the hiring of a Bar licensed attorney. I will cover these differences in five topics based articles: 1) the service provided; 2) the work product; 3) the guarantee (or lack thereof); 4) the value; and, since I deal with patents and other intellectual property, 5) using sites such as LegalZoom for patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
And before you bring it up, yes, I am a lawyer and I do make a living by providing legal services to (paying) clients. However, I only provide my services to advise clients that will benefit legal representation. If a person isn’t ready for a patent, or if they are trying to patent the common fork, I will inform them that they do not yet require the services of a patent attorney.
Without any further introduction, let’s start the discussion and comparison of the services rendered by online legal document generation services versus that of an attorney.
So, what to you get when you hire an attorney?
First, you get a licensed professional that has dedicated a large part of his or her life learning the law as it relates his or her area of practice. If the attorney does not fully know the particular law as it may apply to your individual legal issue (and there are a lot of laws), he or she will have the skill to research the law for an answer. The attorney will likely also review Court decisions and treatises to ensure the answers found are still the law, as they have interpreted by the courts.
Second, when hiring an attorney, you get a human being that is capable of listening to the facts regarding your specific legal matter, apply those facts to the law, critically analyze your facts at they apply to the law, and come to a legal conclusion, from which they may advise the client. As a bonus, conversations between you and your attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege, unless that privilege is waived by the client (please, don’t post details about your legal matter on Facebook!!!).
Third, when hiring an experienced attorney, you get a person with insight on how a case or procedure will likely play out. For example, when applying for a patent, you will likely receive a first office action from the USPTO rejecting your patent on obviousness. An experienced patent attorney will expect this and, due to his experience dealing with patent Examiners, be able to submit an argument to the Examiner that may likely overcome the rejection. This is why experienced attorneys typically charge more.
Fourth, as an attorney creates your legal documents, he or she is likely to be continually thinking “how can I make this document withstand a challenge in the courts by another party.” For example, when I am drafting a patent application for a client, I always consider how a litigator would try to invalidate or claim non-infringement on my patent. With those considerations, I tighten or broaden the document where necessary. It would be a shame to lose a multi-million dollar patent infringement lawsuit because you claimed a square peg, the defendant argues their peg is more “diamondish,” and prosecution history estoppel is preventing you from being protected under the doctrine equivalents (see Festo Corp. v Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kabushiki Co., 535 U.S. 722).
So, had enough on why lawyers are great? What do you get with an online legal document generation services, such as LegalZoom? To avoid appearing biased, I am just going to quote from terms and conditions of the most popular online legal document generation service, LegalZoom (http://www.legalzoom.com/terms-of-use.html).
LegalZoom.com provides an online legal portal to give visitors a general understanding of the law and to provide an automated software solution to individuals who choose to prepare their own legal documents. To that extent, the Site includes general information on commonly encountered legal issues. LegalZoom’s Services also include a review of your answers for completeness, spelling and grammar, and for internal consistency of names, addresses and the like. At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation. LegalZoom and its Services are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney.
LegalZoom strives to keep its legal documents accurate, current and up-to-date. However, because the law changes rapidly, LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all of the information on the Site is completely current. The law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be subject to interpretation by different courts. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance. Furthermore, the legal information contained on the Site is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. 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.
This Site is not intended to create any attorney-client relationship, and your use of LegalZoom does not and will not create an attorney-client relationship between you and LegalZoom. Instead, you are and will be representing yourself in any legal matter you undertake through LegalZoom’s legal document service.
And my personal favorite (which is has parts removed for emphasis):
LEGALZOOM MAKES NO WARRANTY THAT … THE RESULTS THAT MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE USE OF THE SITE, OR ANY MATERIALS OFFERED THROUGH THE SITE, WILL BE ACCURATE OR RELIABLE.
I will let you draw your own conclusions.