Should I hire at attorney? (Part 1)

Do-it-yourself (DIY) options have become a lot more common in the world of legal services. You can now go on-line to prepare your taxes, write your own estate plan, and open your own business, among numerous other options.

While these DIY options to establish a plan do exist, the question remains of the quality of the plan that these DIY options create.

The first issue, before we even start talking about the differences in the end-result (quality), is to point out that DIY operators, like LegalZoom, are not law firms. One of the first differences is illustrated with the LegalZoom disclaimer from their website  (Emphasis added):

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

LegalZoom clearly states that they are not attorneys, they cannot provide advice, and that anything you tell them does not have the legal protections of attorney-client privilege or as work product.

In contrast, hiring an attorney provides the legal privacy protections of attorney-client privilege and the legal knowledge that ensures your specific situation is addressed in a manner that you want. They get to know your situation, your concerns, and your dreams so they can address all of that in your estate planning or business formation documents.

The second issue is quality of the product you obtain from the DIY company.  For simple legal needs, a DIY company may provide a document that works, but rarely explores the complexity of the situation.

Example 1:  If you obtained a Revocable Living Trust from a DIY company, do you also have a Pour Over Will?  Do you also have a Healthcare Power of Attorney?  Do you also have a Financial Power of Attorney?  Life is rarely simple.  Most people would think that it is a simple process to fill in the blanks on forms and they would be set.

Example 2:  If you establish a business with a DIY company, did you form the correct entity?  Is a Sole Proprietorship correct? A Limited Liability Company (LLC)?  A C-Corporation?  An S-Corporation?  Do you have the appropriate documents to run the business?  Do you have the appropriate licenses?  Do you need a Registered Agent?  Do you need to file paperwork with any other government agency?  Did you get your Employer Identification Number?

When most people buy a car, they take it for a test drive before they buy the car. When most people buy a house, they examine several houses before they decide to buy the house. Unfortunately, that is not possible for DIY documents and that is why most people need the assistance of a licensed attorney that understands both the law and the impacts that these decisions will have.  Both opening a business and establishing an estate plan can be a fairly simple and straight forward processes to accomplish, but if it is done without the appropriate planning, it can be far costlier in litigation and other expenses.  Most things in life are not simple and straight forward, and trying to make decisions thinking that it is, can be costly.

In Part 2, we will finish exploring DIY compared to attorney products.