Before you replace a lawyer with an internet-based “legal service” provider, think carefully. What they do is provide quick forms for legal needs. They advertise their availability on television. They provide forms for business formation, wills, Powers of Attorney, estate plans, and more. Beware!! The results can be disastrous.
No doubt you’ve heard or read that Bar Associations in most states have sued most of these providers for something called the Unauthorized Practice of Law. Unless you are a lawyer or employed in the legal field, you probably felt they were the underdog. You may have rooted for them to win. And indeed, they are very careful in interpreting the UPL statute in each state to ensure they do not cross the line. They cannot legally provide any advice. They can only provide a form. So they survive all challenges. At least so far.
Their advertising portrays them as the hero trying to save the average person’s hard-earned dollars from seemingly greedy lawyers. And frankly, Joe the plumber is eating it up big time. Use of these internet-based services is growing.
The problem is that Joe the plumber doesn’t know when the matter requires greater finesse than these forms can provide. And when an undesirable outcome finally shows up — often years later — it often can’t be fixed, or costs far more to fix than would have been spent originally to do it right.
Here’s the problem. There’s no way to know in advance if the solution is inadequate, unless an actual lawyer is involved. Later, when a lawyer must correct, or attempt to correct, the situation, he or she is bound by confidentiality and cannot reveal to the public the consequences of using such services. So unfortunately John Q Public shares all the success stories with friends and relatives, and enhances the reputation of these services. Rarely does Joe the plumber hear of the horror stories from others. And those who ultimately must use a real lawyer to fix problems after the fact rarely talk about it.
So I have challenged lawyers to share some of those stories with me, without any client-identifiable information. I will in turn publish the information. Share it with friends, relatives and colleagues who are tempted to meet their legal needs “on the cheap” with an online service provider.
All the stories will be posted under the same title “Why You Need a Real Lawyer” so if you don’t want to subscribe, just return to the blog on occasion and look for that title in the Table of Contents.
Client pays $100 to a legal forms website to develop simple, uncontested, no custody, no asset, divorce documents. Client pays another $200 to file them. The Prothonotary bounces them for formalities. Client goes home, spends more money (another $50) to redo the documents on a different website. This time the Prothonotary accepts the documents, but the Judge bounces them for problems. Client comes to [real lawyer]. I have to move to start over, and charge them the same fee we always charge to clean up the mess! At least the Judge immediately signed the proposed order to start over with filing new documents that actual conform to the rules, and let the client use the filing fee they already paid.