In 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web. In 30 years, we have seen companies like Amazon.com rocket from a small bookseller to a global retail titan. We now pay our bills, plan vacations and read the news online – concepts completely foreign just two decades ago. With the onslaught of internet-based businesses inevitably came the notion that legal services could be just as quickly and easily delivered at the touch of a button – thereby spawning the household name “Legalzoom.com.” However, services like those offered at “one-size-fits-all” legal sites are often ultimately troublesome for clients and can create a false sense of security for those who believe they downloaded the correct document containing the correct language. The following are some of the top problems you can run into with a web-based legal document service like Legalzoom.com as well as our recommendation that all legal services be produced with the help of a knowledgeable, licensed attorney.
Problem #1 – Hey, Who Drafted This Anyway?
Did you know that Delaware law contains a specific set of requirements for the contents of an advance directive? Or that all wills must be witnessed by two disinterested individuals? These formalities, along with dozens more, must be precisely followed when drafting a legal document or the document will be unenforceable under Delaware law. When using an online legal document service, there is no guarantee that the person drafting the document is licensed by the Delaware Supreme Court or, for that matter, is even a lawyer at all.
Problem #2 – I Think This Will Work….
Online legal services generally do not come with actual legal advice (unless you want to pay a significantly higher price). Therefore, users are forced to rely on their general knowledge of a topic to determine which document is right for their particular situation. While a Last Will and Testament is pretty straightforward, powers of attorney documents may not be as obvious. As well, the website may offer certain types of business or estate planning documents that are not offered or recognized under Delaware law. Only a Delaware attorney can give you the correct advice for your particular situation and you should avoid online document sites if your situation is even mildly complex.
Problem #3 – This is Ethical, Right?
Ethical problems abound in the online delivery of legal documents. For one, does an online document service create an attorney-client relationship between the site and the user? Probably not. Which means the user is not protected by Delaware’s Rules of Professional Responsibility and generally has no recourse if the service rendered is sub-par. In addition, confidentiality issues may arise when an internet user is transacting with a website for legal services. The American Bar Association recently addressed this issue in an official opinion expressing angst over the fact that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a right to monitor any and all transmissions over its network – encouraging legal providers to conduct random monitoring for quality control or mechanical checks only. As well, the ABA encourages all service providers to encrypt legal documents to make the chance of interception even more remote.
In sum, online legal services can create more harm than good. What seems like a cheap and effective solution to a legal problem could end up costing you in the long run. If you download a legal document in an emergency situation and realize that it is unusable, you may deeply regret the decision to forgo consulting with a licensed Delaware attorney face-to-face.