Are you LegalZoom’s Lawful Prey?
Dear Clients, Colleagues and Friends,
A new client recently asked me, somewhat sheepishly, what I thought of LegalZoom. I told him that internet form companies like LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, and Quicken WillMaker are great tools – in the hands of a professional. In the hands of a layperson, they are very dangerous.
Form legal documents are great. They embody centuries of legal experience. I use many forms in my practice and am constantly reviewing, adapting, and adopting new ones. But I’m a lawyer with years of specialized training and experience. The mistake many otherwise intelligent laypeople make goes like this: “This contract is in English. I speak and read English. Therefore, I am qualified to interpret and negotiate my own contract.” But do you know how the Merrimack County Superior Court interpreted that sentence you just read the last three times it considered it? How about the FINRA arbitration panels? How about the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals?
I don’t mind it when clients have tried to rough out their own contract, will, or partnership agreement before coming to see me. In fact, I am pleased when clients take the time to put their wishes in writing – an outline (in their own words – not buried in some form contract they downloaded and which I have to wade through to find the substance) gives me a head start and saves them money. But please, allow me to put your deal or other wishes in the form of a contract that a court can clearly understand if we ever have to enforce it.
Lawyers come in two basic flavors: deal lawyers and litigators. Some of us do, or have done, both. A deal lawyer’s job is to keep you out of trouble and save you money. A litigator’s job is to attempt to rescue you when you’ve gotten into trouble. Yes, “deals” include the final deal you make when you die: the trusts, wills, family business succession plans, and other legal arrangements put in place, in advance, to keep you (and your loved ones) out of trouble and save you (and your loved ones) money.
Legal arrangements are not the place to skimp on prevention. Litigation is very labor-intensive, thus expensive – and unlike the original deal, you and your lawyer have no control over the outcome (a judge does). You can spend $5,000 on legal assistance putting a deal (trust, real estate purchase, business sale) together correctly, or $50,000 litigating over it when it blows up.
It’s your choice.
“There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey.” –John Ruskin