The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Online Legal Services

At some point, most business owners will need professional legal services.  Over the last few years, numerous online legal sites have emerged that provide individuals and business owners the option to act as their own lawyer. The sites offer relatively simple, straight-forward and customized questionnaires that take individuals through a series of questions, dropdowns and checkboxes. The individual fills out the questionnaires online, pays a fee, which is usually less than a lawyer would charge, and then you wait for your documents to arrive.

While lower prices are enticing, the decision to use an online legal filing service rather than an attorney in a law firm is an important one, since the consequences of improper, incomplete or inaccurate filings or agreements can be significant. 

As stated above, online legal services are usually inexpensive compared to what typical law firms charge. The reason is simple. These online sites are not law firms, which is clearly stated on their disclaimers. These sites state that they are not law firms and they are not acting as your attorney. They go on to mention that their legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney and that they cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction. Lastly, in their disclaimer they make it clear that they are not permitted to engage in the practice of law and that they are prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion or recommendation to a customer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.

The key in using online legal services is to understand what they are offering and what you will be receiving. Most of these online legal services are legitimate operations but when you hire them, you should be aware that you are not entering into a client-attorney relationship. You are also not hiring a remote law firm to advise your business and act as your legal counsel. Rather, these services are legal portals that act as a resource for people who want to prepare their own legal documents. These services provide simple generic agreements and guidance in the form of customer service, more specialty filing templates and a nicer interface. A small business owner who is highly knowledgeable about the law and confident in their ability to file legal documents may find online legal services helpful. The lower cost of services, compared to full-service law firms, and the limited guidance online services provide may well suit the needs of such an entrepreneur.

A law firm, on the other hand, will handle necessary filings for you and will provide individualized business guidance in a legal and strategic sense. Additionally, a law firm can address a particular situation or specific concerns of the parties involved. Furthermore, many legal forms found online are not maintained to address developments in the law. Thus, having a lawyer take a final look is always advisable. 

Many commentators have stated that individuals and small business owners can use an online service to handle some of the upfront work and then they should engage a lawyer to handle the preparation of or perform a final review of the relevant documents.