When speaking with potential clients, 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 am answering this question in a series of articles.
Previously, I have addressed the services, work product, and (lack of) guarantee you may receive by using online legal document generation services, such as LegalZoom. This week, I will cover the value of these services over time. In the next article, since I deal with patents and other intellectual property, I plan to finish the series with an article about using sites such as LegalZoom for patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
And, as a block copy disclaimer from the previous article, I am a lawyer and I do make a living by providing legal services to (paying) clients. However, I only provide my services to advice clients that will benefit from legal representation. If a person is not 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.
So, why do people turn to online legal document generation services to create the potential subject of future litigation? Because using companies such as LegalZoom is cheaper than hiring an attorney. Right? Well, it depends how you define “cheaper.”
I will be the first to admit that in some situations, LegalZoom will be cheaper than hiring an attorney. However, most of those situations exist when the legal document is never challenged. If you want a legal document just to say you have one, it’s LegalZoom all the way.
In the following example, I will use an area in which I do not practice. Believe me, I’m dying to talk about patents. But, I’ll save that for the next article.
LegalZoom charges between $695 and $895 to generate a prenuptial agreement. The service may generate your prenup from the information you enter into a questionnaire. Lawyers typically charge by the hour, but you get to interact with them personally. Instead of selecting “yes” from a drop down menu, you can speak to your lawyer personally. Your legal representative may then tailor the prenuptial agreement to reflect the terms you may have come to agreement upon with your spouse, whether or not it can be described by a checkbox. The lawyer may also draft your agreement with foresight into how each section of the agreement will hold up when challenged in court.
If the marriage lasts forever, or if the divorce goes smoothly, you got a great bargain by creating the prenup document through LegalZoom. However, if the agreement is never challenged, you may have saved more by not generating one at all.
But what happens if the marriage ends in an ugly divorce. Although it’s rare, some marriages don’t end well. (I’m from the Midwest, can you tell?) In fact, the love from these marriages may dissolve into a burning desire to crush any happiness of your former spouse, and at any expense. Cue the litigators. The nasty ones will fight tooth and nail for your share of the marital assets, alimony, custody, child support, and anything else you can think of. And if your soon-to-be-ex hates you that much, she’s getting a nasty one.
You can plug virtually any legal document into the above example. Residential lease – a poorly drafted lease may result in having to refund a security deposit in full, despite damages caused by a tenant. Will – ignorance to formalities may result in your estate being distributed intestate. Patent – I would hate to see you lose that $500M patent infringement case because your claims are too narrow to be infringed upon. Pet trust – well, you’re just asking to throw your money away.
Many people think we lawyers are threatened by the new trend of online legal document generation services. That simply isn’t true. It takes a much larger amount of billable hours to fix a poorly created legal document than it possibly could to draft it right the first time.