Have you ever considered using an online legal service? How do you know when it’s time to talk to an actual lawyer? That’s the question we will be diving into today. We live in an incredible digital age where doors of information that were once nonexistent are now wide open for exploration. However, with more accessibility comes a higher potential for making mistakes. We’ve broken down the good and bad of four top legal services: Nolo, Legal Shield, Rocket Lawyer, and Legal Zoom (none of which we have any affiliation with). They all can be incredibly helpful, as long as you know how to use them!
Nolo is a publisher of do-it-yourself legal information, such as legal books, legal forms, and software.
- All information is written for non-lawyers, making it easy to understand and accessible.
- You can get a good background on various topics (business and employment to estate planning to family law).
- There is a lot of free information on the website, and Nolo’s books can be checked out at the library.
- Most of the information is often a general overview and not state-specific. This could cause you to miss something important.
- If you have anything that requires complexity, you may not get the depth of information you need.
- The forms are not necessarily going to cover all the different aspects of your business.
Nolo is great for educating yourself before you talk to a lawyer. You can learn about how to run your business and keep it in compliance, how to treat your employees, tax issues, corporate formalities, and much more. Having this knowledge beforehand will make you better equipped to work with a lawyer to ensure your exact business needs get met.
LegalShield is a pre-paid legal service. You pay a flat fee per month and are given a certain amount of hours with a lawyer in exchange. This time can be used for consultations, reviewing simple documents, writing sample letters, or a limited amount of trial work.
- It’s easy, inexpensive access to a lawyer. Certain companies will also offer LegalShield as a benefit for employees.
- It is an excellent resource for getting a quick, cursory review of a document like a lease or simple contract from a lawyer. Or for writing good first drafts of a simple document or letter you need.
- There can be discomfort at times with the pressure you may experience to get you to purchase services you don’t necessarily need.
- There is less opportunity to vet the lawyers you are working with. You won’t know the experience or quality of the lawyer ahead of time.
- If you need breathing room for customizations, this service might not be for you.
Some clients have used LegalShield and a lawyer simultaneously and found their services to be complimentary of one another. Having one doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the other. For example, if the client needs a low-stakes document reviewed quickly, they may go through LegalShield instead of the lawyer first.
Rocket Lawyer provides you with an online attorney network that you can use to ask questions and find a lawyer. Simply put, you can go online to ask your question, and lawyers will respond to the best of their ability. Rocket Lawyer also provides fillable templates and some document filing.
- It’s easy, affordable access to lawyers for quick, basic questions.
- It’s suitable for simple documents if you already know what kind of document you need.
- You don’t know who the lawyers are that are answering your questions. They could be coming from different states, or specialize in a different area of law, and there is no way to ensure the answer is correct for your circumstance since the lawyer is working with very limited information.
- It can be challenging to determine which documents you need, and without the ability to really customize the templates you may miss something by doing it yourself.
This service is a great starting point, but it is better to build a client-attorney relationship so you know you are receiving information aimed at you. Be careful and do your due diligence to vet the lawyers you are potentially working with. Just because they are a lawyer, doesn’t mean they are the right fit for you.
Legal Zoom is a very popular website that provides forms and contracts you can fill out yourself, or you can have them do your filings for you (such as filing your articles of incorporation if you’re creating a corporation or LLC). Most commonly, we have seen clients use Legal Zoom for forming entities.
- Very accessible forms.
- Pricing is a la carte depending on what services you buy.
- You aren’t guided on which entity is right for your business. This lack of direction can lead to you accidentally creating the wrong entity and not even knowing it. It’s not impossible to fix, but it does cost time and money to rectify, and can leave you unknowingly vulnerable to lawsuits.
- People will form an entity and not realize they haven’t fully completed the process. For example, someone will file their articles of incorporation and will receive a stack of blank templates from Legal Zoom in return. These templates, such as the company bylaws, will go unsigned for years, while this individual is unaware that they should have been doing things like holding meetings with the board of directors or the shareholders to complete the formation process and remain compliant.
- Legal Zoom gives the illusion of protection, but you aren’t as protected as you think. In one case, there was a client who had a partnership agreement that involved three members. Two of the members wanted to remove the third, but the Legal Zoom document didn’t contain a provision for removing a partner against their will. The process ended up being way more costly than it would have if they had gone to a lawyer first to have that clause included.
- Legal Zoom pushes add-on services, however, the lack of information can make it unclear which are necessary or not. This could lead you to pay for more things than you actually need.
Legal Zoom is a good service for those who already know what they need, have spoken with a lawyer, and feel comfortable doing it themselves. It can also be used as a resource for preparing your documents before taking them to a lawyer. If you’re not already an expert, the risk of missing something can be very high, and often causes more harm than good.
All of these online legal services are fantastic resources for education and can be helpful when approached with the right understanding of your needs. There is so much great information right at the fingertips of non-lawyers that provides everyone an opportunity to learn about topics that weren’t accessible before. As a business owner, this can be a gamechanger for helping you understand the basics of law and all aspects of your business.
Taking the time to learn will help you identify what questions you should be asking your lawyer, better equip you to vet your lawyer, and get the tailored information necessary for your business needs. Remember that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” legal document. Make sure to draft your business’s documents for your individual needs because finding a mistake years later can be much more expensive and stressful than preventing problems to begin with.