The do-it-yourself legal business is booming with services and forms available online and in the stores. Everything from a will, to a lease, to articles of incorporation are accessible for anyone to complete for themselves. These DIY services legitimately provide lower cost access to legal products. The cost savings is significant and persuasive. But is the savings worth the potential risk to the consumer?
The perils of DIY legal products are that the consumer has no guarantee that the product they are purchasing is going to suit their particular unique needs – even when the service or product claims it will. And most of the time, the only way a consumer will find out this product is defective, is after it is in play and being rejected as deficient or causing a dilemma for a failure or flaw. At that point, the consumer has no back-up from an experienced attorney or law firm who understands the text of the document and the context of the situation to assist with a remedy.
Sometimes legal forms are out-of-date, not compliant with the state or county requirements, or just plain wrong. Even if the form the consumer is provided is technically legally accurate, if a court clerk or registrar does not recognize it because it does not comply with the standard practice, then it will still be rejected. And the consumer will be without any recourse.
Online forms are overly simplified to be generically applicable to a larger pool of consumers. Sometimes this simplification leads to complications for a consumer down the road when the document does not address all potential situations. For instance, a “simple will” may create conflict among heirs in a community property state for a couple on their second marriage. Or a lease document may not reference to remedies available under local county codes. An attorney will catch these scenarios and provide uniquely suited documents for the location and situation.
So when does a DIY product make sense for a consumer? If the forms are available for free publicly online – for instance through a government agency or a non-profit legal services provider, the forms available are likely trustworthy and accurate for the locale for which they are directed. In Washington state, www.washingtonlawhelp.org is a great resource for self-help legal information and forms. In our state, each county clerk’s website has a limited supply of certain forms as well as references for the DIY attorney.
If you do choose to use an online service or publicly available forms, keep in mind that you can always have those reviewed by Claudia or another attorney at significantly less cost than a full commitment engagement. With just an hour of time, an attorney can read documents, consult on the phone and via email, and give useful, constructive feedback on how you can upgrade your own DIY documents to make them more individually responsive as well as alert you to future concerns or liabilities.