I get a lot of people that ask me to review legal documents that they have purchased online or borrowed from a friend. I almost always find areas for improvement or subject matter that is just plain wrong. I came across this article on Entrepreneur.com an had to share it.
By Autumn Gentry and Keith Dennen
Attorneys at Dickinson Wright, PLLC,
It’s almost scary to think about all the things you can do online today: contract babysitters, find a date and order about anything under the sun, to name a few. But just because you can do it online doesn’t mean you should, especially when using do-it-yourself legal websites to maneuver your company’s legal needs.
While there are a number of them out there, when it comes to these click-download-and-print legal forms, there’s no denying that the convenience is excellent and the price is good. But before you add “amateur attorney” to your job description, it’s important to take a step back and consider if a DIY legal approach is really best for your business.
You get what you pay for
To the untrained eye, most business transactions can seem redundantly identical — just a matter of pushing the right papers in front of the right eyes. But it’s misguided to assume that one legal form can fit the wide scope of diversity that exists within all companies. Every business is guided by unique goals, leaders and circumstances that have different needs and characteristics.
Yet, online legal form websites offer documents designed for the masses — meaning your documents that are intended to protect some of your most essential business components are held together by a fill-in-the-blank, best-effort document with no clauses, amendments or customized language to mitigate your company’s specific needs.
Perhaps the worst part of generic forms is they create a false sense of security for business owners.
What you don’t know can hurt you
With any legal process, details are paramount. Even the smallest omission can invalidate a document or severely cost you time, penalties and other issues. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know how to prevent small but deadly mistakes within your document.
As an illustration, many generic form contracts omit essential hold harmless and indemnification provisions (or allocate responsibility for third-party claim), the result of which can severely tilt the scales of liability out of your business’s favor. An employment contract could include an overly broad non-compete clause, making it unenforceable when you need it. You could also miss jurisdictional compliance relating to issues like interest rates, which could make your entire business practice illegal and potentially derail your company’s entire future.
A lawyer’s thoughts are worth a lot more than a penny
If you aren’t qualified to properly vet your legal work, don’t be lured by the convenience of clicks and cheap rates to do it yourself. These websites even affirm they are not a substitute for a licensed attorney.
Lawyers well versed in the complexities of the law are really the only ones who can guide you through a legal process and ensure your company is as protected by the letter of the law as it can be. Also, by knowing what to look for, lawyers can avoid unnecessary hurdles and keep potential issues from ever occurring, thus keeping your legal bill contained to what you’re actually paying for — the solution, not the problem.
And since lawyers exist in the flesh, not just in cyberspace, you can initiate continued working relationships. That means when other legal needs come your way, your attorney already has an in-depth understanding of what your company does, how it operates, its long-term goals and potential obstacles.
Business revolves around weighing risk and reward. When dealing with something as perilous as the law, the potential risk is too great to bear to not apply your most thorough due diligence. Don’t rely on digital 1s and 0s and an ink-jet printer to handle it for you.