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legal zoom disasters

In a speech to the Walker County Bar Association, a past president of the Alabama Bar Association, Richard Raleigh, mentioned the dangers created by the rise of LegalZoom and other “do it yourself” legal websites.  We regularly receive questions about such sites. Let me explain the dangers.

To start, a number of significant disclaimers from the LegalZoom website are:

1. Those working for LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney.
2. The company’s legal document service is no substitute for actual advice from an attorney.
3. LegalZoom does not review the information you enter for legal adequacy, does not draw legal conclusions, does not offer legal advice and does not examine the law and apply it to the circumstances of your situation.
4. LegalZoom’s information is not guaranteed to be up-to-date, complete or accurate.

Creating a form is not the same as practicing law.  The practice of law involves analyzing unique situations, with all of its nuances, and applying the law for the purpose of giving advice, formulating strategies, preparing documents, and representing a client in court if needed.

We could take the next several columns listing the nightmares seen in the legal profession that were a direct result of people using non-attorney document preparers.  These nightmares include children ending up with abusive parents because a document preparer submitted a wrong form, vehicles lost to creditors because the self-help service failed to advise the debtor properly, family members forced to repay monies to creditors because of incorrect legal forms, estates set up without proper tax considerations, and corporations formed incorrectly.

We should all ask ourselves these questions: “Would you do your own surgery?  Would you construct your own house without the advice of a contractor or engineer? Why would anyone feel that their legal rights are so simple that everyone can just fill in forms?  If this is true then why do good lawyers spend the greater part of their lives fine-tuning their professional advice?”

If you took the time to read the Terms of Service, it is also quite alarming. LegalZoom not only will not guarantee their information is accurate, but they also limit your ability to recover damages for problems that they cause.  They actually limit your recovery to the amount that you paid for their services.  This means that even if a mistake costs you tens of thousands of dollars, they only have to give you back the $89.00 that you paid.

If that isn’t bad enough, they require that you agree to submit any claims against them to binding arbitration.  This means give up your right to have a grievance against them heard by a court of law!   Attorneys cannot make these types of disclaimers.  Attorneys are liable if they commit malpractice.

Attorneys do a great deal more than fill in the blanks. Attorneys are educated for several years to assess your situation firsthand, something a do-it-yourself program is not capable of. The amount of money you could save right now by using legal computer software may be paid out many times over to fix errors made by a computer that could not specifically cater to your needs. In other words, an attorney can give you a real sense of security – without any potential for distressing mistakes.


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