We have become an online world! We take for granted the ability to order something directly through Amazon or Ebay and have it arrive in a day or two! You can design and print a banner for an upcoming birthday party through VistaPrint and have it shipped directly to your house in the same amount of time. Need a website? You can put it together entirely through GoDaddy right now without any programming or design skills in some cases. These are just a few examples. Online retailers are outpacing brick and mortar stores with a vengeance, and that trend will no doubt continue as technology and time marches on. Almost every industry or field has at least one online equivalent that is looking to compete for a customer’s business and legal work is no exception. I am talking of course, about LegalZoom.
From time to time, I will have people actually ask me why documents from LegalZoom are not the better option in these modern times, instead of consulting with an actual flesh and blood attorney who practices that type of law in their respective state. Their various arguments to me defending this viewpoint are typically that (1)“It eliminates the middle-man, I can do it myself” (2) “I don’t have to make an appointment and wait” (3)”I can get a better deal and save money!” But let me ask you this - Are you merely saving money upfront in the short-term and actually risking future peace of mind for you and your family in the long-term? The age-old metaphor of cutting off the nose to spite the face comes to mind here. I can go on YouTube and look at countless videos showing me how to be a plumber, but that does not mean that I should attempt to or are now instantly and magically qualified to re-do the pipes in my house myself anytime soon!
I will say as a positive, that the presence of Legal Zoom does increase the awareness of the sincere need to the public for legal services in general. Their ads frequently show up more and more in Facebook feeds and on TV and in various other places. However, for the purpose of establishing an LLC, a Trust or a Will for example, the question quickly becomes: What are you really getting for your money? That is where the situation and answers truly get murky.
There have been frequent occasions where clients have brought in documents prepared through LegalZoom that are grossly inadequate for their situations! Various horror stories are out there online if you care to look yourself, but to name a few examples I have seen occur over the years, there have been situations with Powers of Attorney created through the Legal Zoom online ‘money-saving’ approach that wound up being not worth the paper they were printed on. In one case, the DIY form left out numerous powers that the client’s agent now needed in place due to changing circumstances in health to address a lack of capacity and handle business on the principal’s behalf - the whole point of doing this type of document in the first place! We wound up having to go to court and petition for a limited conservatorship, which is an expensive and time-consuming process that a carefully and properly drafted Durable Power of Attorney done with a Certified Elder Law Attorney avoids!
In addition, there have been numerous complaints about LegalZoom’s turnaround times, reoccurring charges that show up on credit cards that were not agreed upon and poor customer service to name a few. Check out this link for numerous examples of complaints if you are curious: http://legalzoom.pissedconsumer.com/ .
In my opinion, all attorneys should strive to become trusted advisors to their clients; only then will a client see the real added value that an attorney knowledgeable in their specific field can bring! Anyone, whether it be by computer or program, can put together a document full of boilerplate and standard cookie-cutter legal terms. But without learning what is important to a client, and without understanding what the client feels about the document, that document will miss something important. An attorney that takes the time to get to know his or her clients one on one - their businesses, family and their concerns - will give those clients added value that LegalZoom and like-minded outsourcers simply cannot compete with. Small firms and solo practitioners are especially positioned to offer clients exactly this much added and needed value!
My advice in regards to Estate Planning and Elder Law? Don’t put your family at risk by preparing generic ‘one-size-fits-all documents yourself without the advice and counsel of a competent Certified Elder Law Attorney! The extra money you spend will be far more than worth it!