Fill-in-the-Blank Legal Docs

By now, we’ve all no doubt seen Robert Shapiro telling us he created LegalZoom to provide high quality legal services at bargain prices. A will for $69, an LLC for $99, a divorce for $299—almost everyone can afford to hire O.J.’s high-profile lawyer, right? Well, no. Not really. When you type in your credit card information and fill in the text boxes to create whatever document you may be purchasing, you aren’t hiring an attorney; rather, you are making a purchase from an online legal documentation service, and this is a very important distinction to make.

In broad terms, a legal documentation service cannot provide the advice, counsel, and personalized service an attorney will dedicate to you. Why? Legal documentation services are simply not allowed to do so. Although such services may be founded by famous (and very skilled) attorneys, they are not law firms, and they are simply not permitted to give legal advice. Only licensed attorneys may do that. In fact, the very first paragraph of LegalZoom’s disclaimer notes that LegalZoom is 1) not a law firm, 2) not your attorney, and 3) not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

While such services may suffice for a very small minority of individuals whose lives fit the molds necessitated by fill-in-the-blank documents, for many of us, such forms may not be appropriate. Although the conceit of “hiring” someone as adept as Robert Shapiro for such a bargain price is extremely alluring to most, one must remember two adages that ring true more often than not: 1) if something seems too good to be true, it probably is; and 2) you get what you pay for. In this case, while it may seem like you are hiring a great lawyer for a rock-bottom price, the fact remains that you are not. You are simply purchasing a discount document that’s had your information inserted in the appropriate places. And that’s the sum total of your purchase. Your money paid for a piece of paper without any personalized advice, counsel, or attention—services only an attorney is allowed to provide.

Thus, when you consider planning for your future, we highly recommend you seek the advice and counsel of an attorney. Your life and your loved ones are way too important to entrust to fill-in-the-blank legal documents from companies that readily admit they are no substitute for an attorney.