Monday, August 25, 2014

Is LegalZoom a Legitimate Place to get Legal Documents?

The web site LegalZoom is one of the most popular places in the U.S. to get common legal documents. Famed celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro is the face of the company and it advertises extensively that using their service can save the average person "hundreds, if not thousands of dollars."

But when it comes deciding if the company is legitimate or not, you have to understand exactly what service LegalZoom is offering. Their headquarters is in California and they are licensed as a "legal document assistant." Which means that, despite the fact that they tout the fact the company was founded by lawyers, they can't offer legal advice. In fact, under California laws they can't even suggest what documents you might need or how you should fill them out. They are strictly there to sell you the documents you might need for your particular state and provide generic information on where and how to file them.

Now there are many situations in which simply getting the documents you need quickly and easily would be considered a useful and legitimate service for a customer. Many basic legal matters don't require a lot of expertise and you don't even need a lot of knowledge about the subject. Issues such as a basic name change or a pet protection agreement are pretty straightforward and it's difficult to go wrong, even with a generic legal form.

The problem you can have with a service such as LegalZoom is that because not every problem can be handled without receiving legal advice, their generic forms have some gaps in them. Forms for more complex issues such as wills or living trusts skip over any item that can't be resolved with a generic form. And since the average person purchasing the form wouldn't know the generic form skips over some items, customers run the risk of losing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars by not seeking the legal advice they don't even realize that they need.

All of this doesn't mean that LegalZoom isn't "legitimate." But it does mean that not all legal matters should be handled with generic legal forms. It's not a matter of lawyers wanting to make money by needlessly charging their customers for advice. It's that if you're doing your living trust and not getting competent legal advice when you need it can be dangerous. It can cost your estate money or even worse, can cause your family the very confusion and pain you had hoped to save them from when you consulted LegalZoom.

LegalZoom is a legal way to obtain and file basic legal forms. But it's important to understand what the site can or cannot do well. Everyone likes to save money. But there are times when spending a bit extra to get the job done right is the smartest move. So if you need any sort of even vaguely complex legal forms filed, then it's probably best to stay away from LegalZoom or other companies that provide generic legal forms. Sometimes you really do have to spend money to make money.