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Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has a message for LegalZoom: do it yourself legal forms are not a substitute for an attorney. McKenna is concerned that consumers are mistakenly receiving the impression that they are receiving the services of a law firm. The company advertises that you can use LegalZoom to start a business, patent an invention and create wills. However, in the end, LegalZoom simply supplies forms or online do it yourself guides which can help customers create and file the documents themselves.
Under a settlement with the Attorney General's Office, LegalZoom cannot compare its costs with the costs of attorneys fees, unless the company clearly states that LegalZoom is not a substitute for a law firm. Further, LegalZoom is prohibited from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, misrepresenting the benefits of estate distributions or selling personal information obtained from Washington consumers. In addition, LegalZoom must ensure that the forms that it sells comply with Washington laws.
There was concern at the Attorney General's Office that the estate planning documents were not sufficient for some Washington residents. The Attorney General's Office stated that consumers would be well advised to consult an attorney if they need individualized advice.
To many lawyers, this kind of rhetoric is music to their ears. Sites like LegalZoom are frequently criticized for poaching away clients and misleading consumers into believing they can handle complex legal matters better handled by an experienced attorney. Nevertheless, there is certainly a place in the legal market for do it yourself forms and materials to educate citizens of the law. By the same token, there is certainly a need for specific advice for specific legal questions. That's the big advantage that consumers receive when they seek the counsel of an attorney.