Do Online Legal Forms Deliver on Their Promise to Save You Time and Money? PART II: What Do You Get With an Online “Legal” Form?

Image for Legal FormsIn 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 other words, the form provider will not, in any way, guarantee that “everything is legal,” but offers to connect you with an unknown lawyer for that purpose. Despite this offer, their terms and conditions provide that this site is not a ‘lawyer referral service’ and does not provide legal advice or participate in any legal representation. So, the headlines promise free legally-binding agreements, legal_formsbut the fine print makes clear that a lawyer’s judgment would be valuable to determining whether the forms they sell are right for you.

Another popular online form provider contains numerous forms, but does not help business owners determine whether the forms will work for them or what modifications may be needed based upon the specific facts. They also make clear in their terms of use that they do not provide legal guidance or advice, but merely that they can provide “access to” unnamed independent lawyers who may or may not know about the law in your jurisdiction and who may or may not be reliable, trustworthy, or effective:

Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.

LawDepot’s terms of use contain similar disclaimers, despite ubiquitous use of the word “Free” and implications that you can DIY the legal forms.

Wouldn’t it be simpler and less risky to just ask a lawyer? If you do not know any business lawyers (other than me, of course), ask friends and business colleagues who they recommend.

What is the harm of using an online form without legal guidance?

In addition to the potential exposure to legal liability and possible unenforceability discussed in Part I of this series, a very common and likely problem that is often discovered too late by some who use online legal forms is that the form language, while perfectly fine for some uses, does not fit their particular situation.

A form document is like a specialized kitchen gadget – it might be great for its intended use, but attempting to use it in other ways will yield disappointing results. My Cuisinart food processor is great for spiralized vegetables, but if I tried to cook those vegetables withdlc-xpn-cuisinart-20-cup-food-processor-popup it, I’d end up with a pile of raw veggies. It simply wasn’t made for that purpose.

Similarly, a given legal form may have language that is great for a particular situation, but if the facts of your situation do not perfectly match the one for which it was prepared, it will not make sense for you. And misuse of online legal forms can have far more disastrous consequences than misuse of a Cuisinart, including unenforceability and possible exposure to liability for language that is not permissible in connection with the type of transaction for which you’re attempting to use it.

Even if the only consequence for using an online legal form is that it doesn’t make sense, was that form really worth it?

Disclaimerfine print Covering my bases: There is no legal advice contained in this post. Legal advice entails applying the law to specific facts. I don’t know what your facts are and any resemblance to them here is purely coincidental. Instead, this post is meant to provide general information, which may or may not be complete and accurate. If you need legal guidance, please feel free to contact me using the contact information on my firm’s web site – www.salberglaw.com.

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