Self-Help Legal Switcheroo
We all like to save money—especially on legal matters. Millions of people are now using do-it-yourself online legal form services like www.legalzoom.com. To check it out, I went there, too. Their home page proudly raves, “Save time and money… created by top attorneys… helps you create reliable legal documents… we even review your answers and guarantee your satisfaction.” There is even a testimonial from an attorney who says, “As an attorney, I have been pleasantly surprised with the ease and efficiency of legalzoom.” What is not as obvious, at the very bottom of the home page, is their disclaimer of liability. Go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of the page—you’ll see the disclaimer in very light print. It states:
“The information provided in this site is not legal advice, but general information on legal issues commonly encountered. Legalzoom’s legal document service is not a law firm and is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. Legalzoom cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction. Please note that your access to and use of legalzoom is subject to additional terms and conditions.”The words “additional terms and conditions’ is a hot-link that if you click on it will take you to an even longer disclaimer! The disclaimer guts all of the assurances of reliability and suitability of use that you may have assumed were part of the “actual review of your answers and guarantee of satisfaction.” YOU ARE THE “LAWYER” WHO CHOOSES THE LEGAL FORM! If you decide to be your own lawyer, please understand that legalzoom has the best of all worlds. They advertise that they will provide you with the best form of your choosing and save you money—but if you ever have a problem because of that document, they’re not responsible. You are the one who made the decision about which legal document was right for you and your circumstances. Just yesterday in a meeting with a client, that client exclaimed, “Wow, I never knew that there were so many things to think about in our estate planning.” I responded, “You know, that’s what most people say when it comes to estate planning, disability, Medicaid, or veteran’s benefits. You don’t do this work every day, so you just can’t know all of the issues.” The real value of what any professional counselor does is listen to your description of your circumstances and goals, and then choose the best course of action. There is an old story about a factory which shut down due to an equipment failure. The owner of the factory called a renowned expert to rush to the factory to get things moving. The owner told him, “This shutdown is costing us $100,000 per day!” The expert arrived, walked around the faulty machine, then took out a screwdriver and adjusted a thing or two. Within moments the machine came back to life and the factory began to hum with activity. The owner was thrilled—until he was given a bill for $10,000. He roared, “But it took you less than 10 minutes to fix the machine—it cannot possibly cost $10,000!” The expert calmly responded, “No, it took me a lifetime to know exactly where and how to use that screwdriver. The bill is $10,000—but the value to you is $100,000 per day.” Moral of the story: The right solution for the circumstances often requires a lifetime of preparation.