Obtaining legal documents for a few hundred dollars online instead of a few thousand at a law firm may sound like an attractive option. However, doing so can often be a dangerous and costly affair.
A case in point is the class action law suit brought against one such legal document provider in America called LegalZoom. LegalZoom attempts to be a service provider (of legal documents) without offering any legal advice. The lawsuit entitled Webster v LegalZoom.com, Inc. alleged that LegalZoom not only misled consumers about the services it could provide, but also practiced law without authorisation. LegalZoom entered into a class action lawsuit settlement agreement to resolve the issue.
It could be argued that on one hand the availability of online legal documents has made the law more accessible to everyone. However, there are some pitfalls to using online legal documents that the websites do not warn customers about.
Some things to remember if you are thinking about using an online legal document are:
1) Laws change over time – Make sure that the form you are using is in date. A legal document that was valid in 2008 may not be valid anymore. Laws change all the time as new legislation is passed or a judge reviews a case. These things are difficult to know about unless you have access to a lawyer.
2) Laws change from state to state – In some areas of law, state legislation or ruling by the Supreme Court in that state is binding. In such cases using a document or legal material that is valid in NSW when you are in WA can be a costly mistake.
3) Errors – If you file a form with an error, the online legal document provider cannot warn you of the mistake even if they know about it. In Australia, only a lawyer recognised by the State can provide legal advice of any sort.
4) Complex matters – Legal documents such as wills and contracts can be very complex. In areas such as estate planning, taxation, contract law many factors influence the legal advice you receive. Factors such as if you have investments abroad or you have children from a previous relationship can seriously alter what may be required. In such cases, filling out the wrong document or filling out a document incorrectly can have disastrous consequences for the family or individual concerned.
5) Fixing a mistake can often be much more expensive, complex and tiresome than getting a lawyer to do it all correctly in the first place.
This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 1800 609 945.