By: Colleen A. Baird
Clients ask me all the time whether something they’ve asked me to do for them in-person could just as easily have been achieved by utilizing an online legal platform such as LegalZoom. The short answer is *yes*. Those platforms exist for a reason, and they are to make the legal process as easily accessible for the digital consumer as any other type of professional service. The long answer exists somewhere within the asterisks surrounding that “yes.” Whether seeking professional in-person legal counseling or using an online platform is for you depends on what you are hoping to achieve. If your hope is to achieve accurate, well-reviewed documents that will give you long-term peace of mind, allow me to encourage you to seek the assistance of local counsel to guide you through your legal issues.
While online services may be able to contemplate the basics of something like simple Estate Planning, a program simply can’t take into account every nuance and question that may arise along the way. For example, an online planning service may fail to take important things into account such as a Trust provision for assets going to minor children or reviewing property/assets passing outside of probate such as life insurance and/or retirement accounts. When I meet with Estate Planning clients in our office, we have a thorough discussion about all facets of their lives, including the present and planning for the future.
Furthermore, while anyone can Google the definition a certain phrase means in a Will or Power of Attorney, most people may not realize the full implication of what that phrase may actually mean in application. Sometimes, the practicality of how things are structured makes all the difference.
One of the biggest factors driving people to online legal services is the perceived expense of hiring a lawyer to handle legal matters. Believe it not, most basic legal services such as Estate Planning or creating an LLC are very affordable. In addition, you not only get an initial consultation, but also the creation of draft documents which are reviewed by experienced attorneys and legal staff prior to being fully-executed. In addition to these steps, you also know that there is long-term support for any future issues or questions. It is not uncommon for clients to consult us on a yearly basis with follow-up questions as major or minor life events occur.
The saying is true that you do get what you pay for. There is always the chance that even if something costs less up front, any mistakes made during the initial process could cost you in the long run. This is especially true with matters like complex estate planning or corporate work. If the wrong information is inserted into an online Will form, it may cost five times more than what the initial Will cost to address the mistake.
While online legal services may be good for a one-off issue or a short-term solution to an issue, they are not capable of contemplating or identifying long-term issues from resulting scenarios. For example, if a client who owns a business walks in to do their Estate Planning, we are contemplating not only updates to their Will, but also implications on their business and succession planning, and the potential tax consequences that need to be considered.
Legal work is one aspect of life where I encourage people to pay good money to get a good product. It is not the right time to attempt to find a “deal” or bargain hunt (things have similarly been stated about physicians and tattoo artists). If you can find an Attorney and law firm who you know and trust, the rewards from that relationship will pay dividends in the long run.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog should not be construed as legal advice to be relied upon nor to create an attorney/client relationship. Please note that the reader’s or an industry’s specific situation or circumstances will vary and, thus, for example, an approach that is advisable in one industry may not be appropriate in another industry. If you have questions about your situation or about how to apply information contained in this blog to your situation or industry, you should reach out to an attorney. The views expressed in this blog are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or the firm’s clients.
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