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The Problem with Online Legal Document Vendors

In this digital age, many individuals in need of legal documents have begun to use online legal documentation vendors in lieu of consulting with a licensed attorney. Several websites offer documents that cover a broad spectrum of legal issues: ranging from business formation, real estate documents, wills and trusts, real estate documents, trademark registration, pre-nuptial agreements, divorce, name changes, and power of attorney.

While purchasing these documents may initially cost less than working with an attorney, the potential savings cannot replace the individualized, up-to-date legal advice an attorney provides. In fact, one vendor makes clear in its disclaimer that it “is not a law firm, and the employees . . .  are not acting as your attorney. [The company’s] legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.”

Below are five reasons why you are better off consulting an attorney rather than using a form legal document from the Internet:

1. Not State Specific.  It may not address particular laws of your state.  Many legal issues are determined on a state by state basis, and have laws that are exclusive to a particular state.  A generic form, or one that you may find online may not address particular issues that you or your company needs and fail to protect where needed most.

2. Applies Wrong Laws.  On the flip side, it may include laws that don’t apply in your or company’s home state, or worse, it may contractually bind you to another state’s jurisdiction.  If your company is in Michigan and the contract binds you to Nevada law and courts, you may be in a predicament if something goes wrong.

3. What does it mean? Let’s face it, legal documents are difficult to understand.  Lawyers have been accused of writing in “legalese” for decades, if not centuries.  There is a movement towards writing in plain English, but that doesn’t mean the document you found online was written that way. By not understanding it, you could be waiving certain rights, agreeing to jurisdiction in another state, or agreeing to pay legal fees for the other party.  Bottom line, don’t sign an agreement and legally bind yourself if you don’t know what it means.

4. You get what you pay for.  If something goes wrong, you will likely spend more resources trying to enforce or defend the agreement than the resources you saved in using the generic agreement found online.

5. Who is the Author?  The internet is full of information, and in this day and age, we are so fortunate to have this resource.  But unfortunately, anyone can contribute without regard to credentials, expertise or education.  You don’t know if the agreement you found was drafted by a Harvard educated lawyer, or the first year college student who decided he is prelaw.  Be careful using the information you find.

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