In an age of Amazon, Uber, and Scott Trade, the power of choice and affordability for the consumer has never been stronger. Thus, it makes sense that such choice and affordability would be available in the legal world. Businesses like Legal Zoom and Nolo provide template forms that allow the average consumer to make contracts, write wills, establish trusts, and do other transactional work. It addresses a pressing need in the market: affordable, simple legal work. And it comes as no surprise that transactional attorneys and estate litigators love the advent. The simple answer is that a legal need cannot be satisfy by a template. They can be a great starting point, but too often consumers assume that the template covers all of the bases. The reality is that the template becomes a time bomb that will explode as soon as their is trouble. My Wills & Trust professor said that when you are planning an estate, you will need a lawyer; the only question is how much you are going to end up paying him. A lawyer can draw up an effective estate plan for a couple of thousand dollars. While it may seem like a lot, a dispute in court over the distribution of an estate will cost much more.
What legal templates cannot provide are strategy, analysis, and flexibility. Though you can argue that law school has a lot of useless aspects, the fact remains that practicing law takes an education and an understanding of more than just rules. A lawyer’s end product may end up being just a 10 page document, but the service the consumer paid for includes an analysis of the consumer’s needs and a flexibility to maximize potential and minimize risk. In addition, a lawyer provides legal cover when things go bad. A lawyer has certain duties and obligations to his client and to the quality of his work. Using legal templates do not provide that coverage.
So why do legal templates succeed if they are not the best quality? Simple: they address an obvious need. The majority of people, small businesses, and start-ups cannot afford a lawyer on retainer of hourly. Without a better alternative, people will turn to templates over and over again. It can be worth the risk fill out a template rather than pay the exorbitant fees that some firms charge. So until the prices come down for transactional work, expect legal templates and services like Legal Zoom to continue working. Just don’t expect the output to be high quality.
(Also posted at blog.lawstud.io)