The Risk of DIY Planning

If Lawyers Aren’t Perfect, Why Isn’t a Document Preparation Service Good Enough?

by Rania Combs

WhichwayA reader recently submitted a comment to my article titled “LegalZoom vs. Lawyer: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” This reader’s view of lawyers had been shaped by his experience in a protracted divorce proceeding, so needless to say, it was not positive.

The main gist of his comment was that the legal profession was full of more bad, incompetent, lazy, careless and overpaid law firms than the legal community chose to admit.  “I am not saying LegalZoom is perfect, but do not try to claim that attorneys are also, or that the probability is high that any attorney you find will do a better job.”

No one is perfect

I don’t know many attorneys who’d claim that members of the legal profession are incapable of making mistakes. Like all people, attorneys are human and fallible. Additionally, there are always a certain percentage of any group of individuals, whether professional or otherwise, whose bad behavior causes disrepute to that group. The legal profession is certainly not immune.

But that doesn’t change the fact that when you use a document preparation service to prepare legal documents, you are required to agree that their employees are not acting as your attorney, that their service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, and that they will not review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the facts to your particular situation.

Attorney’s can’t disclaim responsibility

Lawyers can’t disclaim those responsibilities, which gives us a huge incentive to make sure we keep up to date on legal developments to ensure our clients’ needs are met.

  1. Attorneys are bound by certain rules of professional conduct and are accountable to our State Bars for behavior that falls short that. For example, rules require that an attorney handling a case be competent and diligent in our representation. An attorney is prohibited of accepting or continuing employment in a legal matter in which the attorney knows is beyond her competence, or of neglecting a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer. Aggrieved clients can file complaints for misconduct with the State Bar, which will conduct an investigation. An attorney’s license to practice law (his or her livelihood) can be suspended or revoked in certain instances.
  2. Additionally, attorneys are required by their State Bars to take a minimum number of continuing education hours each year. The continuing education classes ensure that attorneys refresh our understanding of legal issues and learn about new legal developments that may affect our clients. Attorneys who fail to comply with minimum continuing education requirements can be fined and, in some cases, suspended from the practice of law.
  3. Finally, in the event that an attorney makes serious mistakes in handling a case, the legal system gives the client redress. An attorney can be sued for malpractice, and an attorney’s malpractice insurance can often make the client whole. This is in stark contrast to document preparation services, which specifically disclaim any responsibility if something goes wrong.

While there may be some attorneys who give others in our profession a bad reputation, there are also many attorneys who sincerely care about justice and are making strides to ensure that legal services are accessible and affordable. A growing number of attorneys, like me, are using technology to increase access to affordable legal services.  And we take great care to keep abreast of issues affecting the area in which we practice and advise our clients to ensure that their legal needs are met.

So ask your friends, family members or financial advisors for recommendations. Read online reviews about the attorney you’re considering. Request references from the attorney. Research the attorney online. Read what he or she posted on social media accounts and blogs. By doing these things, you’ll maximize the possibility that you’ll choose an excellent attorney to represent you.

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