LegalZoom and other sellers of legal services who deny all responsibility

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the risk, if any, of relying on legal documents selected, prepared and sold by LegalZoom does not extend beyond the purchaser. Then, what’s the problem?  Shouldn’t consumers be free to decide for themselves whether or not to take the risk, if there is one? Let the marketplace – imperfect and sometimes slow to catch on to reality – be the principal regulator.

But, again, just for the sake of discussion, assume there are risks and that those risks affect not only the purchasers of legal documents over the Internet but also third parties.  For example, assume someone purchases a document for use in a court proceeding, for example in a divorce or bankruptcy proceeding, and that the document is defective.  What should the court do?  Often courts give more latitude to people who represent themselves, allowing pro se litigants a “do-over” or more time.  If that were to happen because of a defective legal document purchased over the Internet, then the harm caused by the Internet legal document has spread beyond harm to the purchaser and extended to the court and to the other parties to the case.  Is that fair?  In my opinion, the answer is no.

A fundamental problem with LegalZoom is that lawyers use their status as lawyers to attract customers.  They tout their expertise.  LegalZoom’s chief spokesman – its marketer in chief – is well known as the general manager of the OJ Simpson defense team. But, having touted their expertise, the LegalZoom lawyers, in the difficult to find fine print, deny all responsibility.  Before the purchase, LegalZoom’s lawyers are  “expert attorneys with experience at the most prestigious law firms in the country.”  After the purchase those same “expert attorneys with experience at the most prestigious law firms in the country” adopt the attitude of used car salesmen.  (Who would rely on a used car salesman for estate planning documents?)

Direct purchasers of LegalZoom documents have a choice, in theory.  They can – and certainly should – read the fine print and decide whether to buy and rely on the document.  But third parties do not have that choice.  They may become “victims” of “bad” documents sold by annonymous, responsibility-denying lawyers.  That is unfair and should not be permitted.