Come on, do I *really* need a lawyer?

Short answer: probably yes. And I’ll tell you why.

I am a member of a listserv of solo and small firm practitioners. Recently there was a thread discussing the impact services like LegalZoom and other do-it-yourself legal forms are having on the legal industry. Members of the listserv shared their stories of clients who would come in and ask why they should hire a lawyer to write a will, draft a contract, or form a company, instead of saving money by doing it themselves through LegalZoom or similar services or buying a do-it-yourself form from Staples. Others members of the listserv offered reasons why most, if not all, people need a lawyer to handle their legal issues rather than saving money by doing it themselves.

Looking at it one way, lawyers are basically throwing in the will, the contract, or the incorporation papers for free (especially if they offer those services at a flat fee). What the client is really paying for is the lawyer’s time, knowledge, and advice, a real live person the client can sit down with, who will figure out what the client’s needs really are and then tailor the will, the contract, or the company’s by-laws to exactly what the client needs. Does the client really need just a simple will, or does the client need something more complex to ensure that all the client’s assets and interests are well-protected? Does the client really need to form a corporation or LLC, or will a sole proprietorship or joint venture do? A lawyer will make sure that the client’s documents comply with local law, including both statutes and case law interpreting those statutes, and will contact the client to notify him or her about changes in the law that may invalidate provisions of a legal documents and can amend those documents to bring them into compliance with the law.

More basic is the concept that if you buy a $79 legal document, you are likely only going to get a $79 legal document. Do you really want to spend only $79 on something that will govern your business, something that you may intend to become your livelihood? In addition, what exactly does LegalZoom provide for $79 over the do-it-yourself incorporation package one can purchase for $10 at Staples? Not much, really — LegalZoom offers attorney review for additional fees, but the main point of using LegalZoom, the legal document forms themselves, can be found at office supply stores for a fraction of the price LegalZoom charges.

It’s possible that people attracted to LegalZoom deep down recognize that they *do* need help with their legal issues, but are reticent, or in some cases legitimately unable, to pay for a lawyer. They believe, or want to believe, that LegalZoom can provide the help they need. For an entrepreneur, forming a small business will likely be the most important legal action he or she will ever take. It is obviously critical that forming a business be done correctly and address all of the needs of the founding owners.Where the issues are simple, an entrepreneur with a good understanding of business law may be able to make informed decisions and complete the organization process without the help of an attorney. But where the issues are complex, particularly where there are multiple owners who will act as managers and employees in a small business, retaining an attorney to sit down with you, review the facts of your situation, and provide advice tailored to it may be invaluable, especially if your business hits difficult times — having properly completed and tailored legal documents can avoid the expense of a messy situation that a small business may not be able to afford.

The consensus on the listserv was some people are just convinced that LegalZoom is all they need and that they can handle their legal issues themselves, and that no amount of persuasion otherwise would get them to acknowledge that they may need the help of an attorney to resolve their legal issues. For my part, as an attorney in private practice I do want as much business as I can get, and I do want to make a good living, but I’m not out to gouge my clients. I understand that starting a business can be a costly venture, and that some entrepreneurs believe they simply do not have the funds available to hire an attorney. However, I genuinely want to help entrepreneurs, and I genuinely believe that people with legal issues need to speak to an attorney to figure out what exactly they need to do. If cost is a concern, then I encourage entrepreneurs to speak to several attorneys to find one that provides the level of service the entrepreneur is comfortable with while understanding the financial concerns of the entrepreneur.

Again, I welcome questions, comments, or criticisms by leaving a comment on the article, or by going to the Contact Us page and sending us an email. Thanks for reading!

P.S.: There will be no blog article on Saturday. I hope everyone enjoy their Thanksgiving weekend; be safe going to and from wherever you will celebrate, and enjoy the food and the company of your family and friends. See you all next week!