In an ever-increasing automated world, it is only natural that we would want our legal services to be the same. All a user has to do is “fill out a form” online and then the website generates the legal content for you. Sites such as Legalzoom and Rocket Lawyer have become incredibly popular in recent years.
Beware that there are risks involved in using these kinds of websites for legal services. You should understand that these legal content-generating services may contain errors or may not be suited to that person's particular jurisdiction. The law is very complex and each person has unique needs, preferences, and goals. Nevertheless, there are times you may feel that the money saved by not going to an attorney outweighs the potential risks of using a legal forms site. And for some transactions—such as very, very simple wills, or a small lease agreement—the risk of running into legal trouble in the future is limited.
For complex transactions or contentious litigation, legal form generating websites can pose a substantial risk for the user. Understand that Legalzoom and other similar services are not law firms and do not act as your attorney. An attorney’s job and duty (under the lawyer’s cannons of ethics) is to advise you of your rights, responsibilities, and liabilities with respect to any legal question a client may pose. These sites cannot, and should not, be used in lieu of legal advise to a complex problem.
For example, clients tell us that they use legal zoom for creating a Limited Liability Company (LLC). And there is nothing wrong with creating an LLC without the guidance of an attorney. But when the LLC is involved in complex, legal transactions or is composed of several members, there is risk that the LLC—while technically a valid business entity—does not have the proper agreements in place to minimize risk to the members. Without an understanding of company agreements or using the corporate veil to minimize individual liability, you may be calling us for our services in the courtroom in the near future.
When litigation is involved or potential litigation (i.e. a lawsuit)—without the help of an attorney—form generating content is a terrible idea. Unless the value of the legal damages are incredibly minuscule (which usually they are not), we would never recommend representing yourself in Court without an attorney. Even divorces that involve little to no assets can become complex when children are involved. There are horror stories of people buying legal forms online that are in fact free and do not cost a dime. For simple divorces the State of Texas has created these free forms: https://texaslawhelp.org/family-divorce-children. And there are people who have inadvertently filled out the wrong legal forms generated from a website only to be turned away in court.
A good rule of thumb is that if you are unsure about what a document means or how to accomplish a legal transaction, you should retain an attorney. We understand that legal fees are expensive and can sometimes be the most expensive aspect of a person’s life. The cost of a major legal mistake however can be several times more than the legal fees required to minimize risk and become educated about your legal rights.