There is no doubt that LegalZoom and similar online document generation services have provided a simple, inexpensive way for the consumer to generate a basic set of estate planning documents.
Most consumers, for better or for worse, see their trust, will, power of attorney, or health care directive as a commodity, believing there is no difference between a document generated by LegalZoom or RocketLawyer and one drafted by an attorney they have hired.
Butlook closely at the disclaimers provided on the LegalZoom web site, and the consumer will quickly see just what they are (or more descriptively, are NOT) paying for. Here's a sampling of some of LegalZoom's disclaimers, the full text of which may be found here.
"LegalZoom is not a law firm, and [is] not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom's legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney."
“LegalZoom is prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.”
“At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation. LegalZoom and its services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.”
“[T]he legal information on this site … is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date.”
“LegalZoom is not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this site…. In short, your use of the site is at your own risk.”
It's there in black and white, and LegalZoom will very reasonably argue that they make no pretense of being anything but a document generation web site.
That said, LegalZoom does pair their document generation up with "independent contractor" attorneys who can offer customers of the site (the use of the word "customer" here is key as LegalZoom's users are in no way a "client") client-like advice while the customer generates their own document. I might liken it to opening a copy of Gray's Anatomy, getting a doctor on the phone, and asking her to guide you through your self-administered appendectomy.
My intent is not to bad mouth LegalZoom. LegalZoom fills a need in the marketplace, and it is my job as an attorney to educate the legal consumer about the value of my services. To that end, I would offer the following counter to LegalZoom's disclaimers shown above, what I like to call the Attorney Charge:
“I will act as your attorney, which means I am ethically bound to provide to you the best legal advice and counsel I can, and you will be able to rely on that advice.”
“As your attorney, I shall provide to you, MY CLIENT, the best advice, explanations, opinions, and recommendations about the law’s impact on your legal matter that I can, and I will guide you through the selection of forms and strategies.”
“As your attorney, I am legally bound to the strictest privacy in communications between you and I. This is a level of privacy that is afforded only to lawyers, doctors, spouses, and clergy. Anything that you and I discuss will remain completely confidential between us, and with very limited exceptions, only you can waive that privilege.”
“I will always seek your full advise and consent to learn from you the information I need to address your legal matter in the manner you desire. It is my responsibility to ensure that you and I, working together, develop a strategy that is legally sufficient, and that I’ve applied the law to the facts of your particular situation.”
“As your attorney, it is my responsibility to keep myself up-to-date on the law as it applies to your matter, and to always apply the law completely and correctly to your personal circumstance.”
“As your attorney, I strive to ensure that I practice the law diligently and accurately. In the unlikely event I mess up, I carry professional malpractice insurance to protect you against any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage resulting from errors I may inadvertently make during your representation.”
I strive to offer great value in my services to clients. I'll never be able to match the pricing offered by LegalZoom and other online services. But it's an apples to oranges comparison.
My's clients are paying for advice and counseling. They are paying for security. They are paying to ensure that their matter is handled with attention paid to their specific goals and desires. My clients are paying to have an attorney, and that is something that LegalZoom readily admits they simply cannot be to their customers.