In Part I of this series, we explored the enforceability and trustworthiness of online legal forms and learned that there is more to effective and enforceable documents than nice-sounding language. This post discusses the services provided by online legal form providers (other than allowing you to download a standardized document that may or may not be legal, enforceable, or applicable to your situation).
What Services Do Online Form Providers Offer?
The terms and conditions of the top online legal forms providers make clear that, despite the implication that you can “Do it Yourself” with their forms, even they recognize that legal judgment is also needed in order to ensure that the “form” language you are purchasing makes sense for how you intend to use it.
One online form provider provides documents that they say they will guide you through, claiming:
These legal documents, forms and letters make it simple for you to create legally-binding agreements at no cost. Whether you’re documenting a deal, forming a business, or doing something as simple as selling a car, you’ll find free legal documents for almost any need.
But, they end this claim by acknowledging they can’t provide legal advice or exercise judgment:
And if you have any questions about our online documents or forms, we’re always happy to connect you with a lawyer to make sure everything is legal.
In our digital information age, “online” is the first place many of us go with a tricky question like, “What year did Elvis enter the Army?” (A: 1958) or “Are there alternatives to the ‘Cone of Shame’ for my pooch who just had surgery?” (A: Yes – in fact, there are many good alternatives; my dog liked the ProCollar™ best). How about “What form of business entity should my new company take and which documents should I use to create and manage the entity?” (A: It depends. Only by applying legal knowledge to multiple factors can this be answered.)
EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT:
Unenforceable Online Legal Form Exposes Company to Potential Liability
No business owner wants to see its company name in such a headline. But, that is precisely the type of outcome the small experiment I just conducted could have led to.
In order to speak intelligently about online legal forms, I obtained one. To protect the not-so-innocent, I’ll withhold the name of the form provider and will not share their proprietary information here.
Most of us generally understand that the Bill of Rights and civil rights legislation stemming from it applies to protect individuals against governmental overreach, whether that be in the form of an attempt to suppress our speech, religious freedom, right against unreasonable search and seizure, or other civil rights. And most of us understand a corporation to be a legal entity that is separate from its owners/shareholders.
So, how did Hobby Lobby, which is a corporation, successfully assert a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – a civil rights statute?
Man gropes female colleague; man sues their employer. That’s the basic story line from a recent case out of Pennsylvania, where an EMT named Mitchell was accused by a colleague (Witt) of touching her in seriously inappropriate ways (grabbing her buttocks and getting dangerously close to even more private areas). Upon determining that Witt’s claim had merit, the city of Pittsburgh, for which they both worked, fired Mitchell. That was the right course of action . . . wasn’t it? Yes and no.
Here’s the problem: Mitchell was a 61 year-old black man who claimed disparate treatment in this firing, pointing to a situation where two paramedics, who were younger and white, had each struck a patient and received suspension (not termination) as a result. According to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, striking a patient is of “comparable seriousness” to groping a co-worker. So, in being only suspended (not fired), the white employees were treated more favorably than Mitchell, leading to employer liability for disparate treatment based upon membership in a protected class. Continue reading Why Bad Employee Behavior Needs to Be Punished→
There are good legal and practical reasons for your company not to hold onto every document that comes across its proverbial desk. There are also good reasons not to destroy documents too hastily. Instead, you can adopt a well-considered record retention policy that dictates which documents are retained, for how long, and when to destroy them. Working with your legal counsel to draft the policy will help ensure the proper timeline for document destruction and help you avoid legal headaches.