Here at ENlawyers, because we practice criminal defense, outside general counsel, and private investigations for individuals and businesses, we rarely compete against online legal services such as Legal Zoom or Rocket lawyer.  However, I have occasionally received questions from clients (and friends) as to why such services are good and bad and what the cost comparison is against a real live lawyer (like me).  I’d just like to take a minute and explain the differences, both good and bad from a real live lawyer.

The legal website: the pros

Sure, I’ll admit it, there are a large number of lawyers who are very expensive per hour and who have access to a large form bank and will quickly churn out your legal document for an exorbitant fee.  Having legal zoom prepare and file your documents is much less expensive.  Here are some examples:

  • LLC – from $99 (plus state filing fee, which in Maryland is another $192 if you file online and want a copy back from SDAT)
  • Trademark – from $169 (plus filing fees)
  • Wills – from $69 (with a $50,000 guarantee)

That all sounds great, doesn’t it?  Those are some quite reasonable prices for some basic legal issues.  For many people this might be adequate, as well.  You answer a series of questions and the computer generates a document. Voila!  you are done.

The legal website: the cons enlawyers, online legal services

Now to the downside.  I’ll just list a few

  • The real price: more than what is advertised.  For a “comprehensive” will, it is $79.  For attorney support, you have to sign up for Legal Zoom’s $14.99 per month plan (but it doesn’t guarantee that it is a Maryland Barred & experienced attorney).  Plus if you want to file your will with the clerk of the court for safekeeping, you still need to go to the courthouse and pay the filing fee.
  • $50,000 guarantee – that is essentially worthless, because $50,000 barely covers the residual value of many estates.  Plus if the will is wrong, incorrectly executed, or just bad, who can remedy the problem?  Not legal zoom!  They don’t have malpractice insurance.
  • Conversation with a real lawyer – Often my consults for estate advice is more geared toward planning and not the actual writing.  The price you pay to a lawyer is in part, for the ability to discuss your legal scenarios and the pros and cons of each scenario and to obtain advice about how to best word your estate planning document to meet your needs.
    • For example, if you are setting up a trust for the care of your minor children, you may want a co-trustee to oversee the caregiver.  Unfortunately people who manage trusts often abuse them and having a check or balance may give oversight to the situation, particularly if the trust has substantial funds.  That is advice you won’t get on legal zoom.
  • PDF delivery of your document – Legal Zoom and the other services will not allow you to make small changes yourself to your documents after they have finished.  A real lawyer may give you the opportunity to make changes to the document before (and after) the execution.  I give my clients word copies of documents I prepare if they request it.
  • Execution of your document – is legal zoom familiar with the testamentary requirements in Maryland?  They certainly cannot witness your will.  Will they execute your will properly from some computer 2000 miles away?
  • Face-to-face interaction – I often discover after a lengthy intake interview that the client in a will or LLC filing has additional work they need to do BEFORE they begin the document process.  And I expect a “do over.”  I also suggest other things they can do to make the process smoother (assembling needed documents, providing documents to their lawyer for safekeeping, etc).
  • Court appearances – online legal services cannot go to court on your behalf
  • Filing documents – online legal services cannot file documents on your behalf (LLC’s must be filed with SDAT and there are constantly problems with the filings).
  • LLC is not enough – often businesses just starting out need additional documents that a live and in-person lawyer may be able to identify that legal zoom will not, such as non-compete agreements, sales contracts, invoices, bills of lading, an operating agreement, stock agreements, partnership agreements.  Each of these documents should be custom tailored to fit the clients needs.
  • Legal websites are not less expensive in the short or long run – The online legal services may be less expensive initially, however much of a real lawyer’s costs and expenses are associated with his or her experiences and being able to “cut through the tape” of whatever your problem is.
    • For example, perhaps you only need a simple LLC document if you are a single-member pass through LLC.  Or perhaps if you have investors and different levels of ownership and management, you need a custom tailored operating agreement for your LLC that Legal zoom cannot handle.  Either way, the costs associated with a lawyer for small business startup are going to be substantially less that doing it WRONG with legal zoom.  Because remember, you aren’t just paying for the document, but you’re paying for the ability to see problems with your will or business in the future; and unless they’ve invented a thinking computer, you won’t be able to get that online!
    • We don’t handle wills or estate matters, but we have done wills for friends and our fees are only slightly higher than legal zoom for such services.  The same is true for an LLC filing.

ENlawyers: Bottom Line

We don’t handle complex estate or will matters, but for our small business clients, it is always better to have a real Maryland Lawyer to complete your work, because it isn’t the form, but the knowledge behind it and the nuances in Maryland law that you are paying the few extra dollars for.  Call ENlawyers.

HT: My favorite small/solo blog…My Shingle