Online Legal Services–Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later
With the increased popularity of available online services, legal document preparation has also gone the way of the World Wide Web. Users simply fill out a questionnaire, and the online service spits out legal documents. These online legal services promote themselves as “fast,” “easy,” “convenient,” and “affordable.” However, these supposed benefits can be deceiving.
First, online services generally aren’t capable of customizing documents to your needs and goals. They simply regurgitate what you input. The familiar mantra “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind. For example, if you tell the online service to set up a corporation, the service will do just that, even though your true needs might be better served if you created an LLC instead.
Second, most transactions aren’t as simple as they appear. For instance, properly drafting a contract, creating a business entity, or preparing a family trust frequently involves multiple considerations, such as complex tax ramifications, securities laws, intellectual property rights, licensing, insurance, employment issues, buy-sell contingencies, and the like. It’s tempting to believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter document for every transaction, but that’s simply not the case.
Third, online services often charge hidden fees for extras that would normally be included in a complete package deal. For example, it’s often not readily apparent that you’ll have to pay extra for name reservations, filing fees, S-corp elections, corporate books, bylaws, business licenses, and other corporate add-ons.
Next, online services don’t follow up to make sure that blanks get filled in, that documents get signed and properly filed, and that necessary formalities are observed. So when a dispute later arises, it’s not uncommon for parties to discover that there’s no dispute-resolution or buy-out clause, that the document is unenforceable, or that the corporate liability shield can be pierced by creditors. Too often, these problems can’t be fixed or result in extremely expensive litigation.
Finally, online services cannot and do not provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice, which is the primary reason why expensive problems result in the first place.
Rod Woodbury can be reached at 702-933-0777 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.