1400 Gables Ct #103 Plano, TX 75075
5601 Bridge Street, #300, Ft. Worth, TX 76112

Why Online Legal Services Aren’t Necessarily a Good Choice for Small Businesses

Okay, Okay, I know. You’re thinking, “Of course Armstrong is going to say that. After all, he is a business attorney, and the on line services are cutting into his business.” I understand why you might think that, but, think again. My practice is doing better than it ever has in the last 35 years. And it is doing so, in spite of the surge in the on line availability of legal forms, do-it-yourself kits, and similar phenomena.

A big part of this is because of the client loyalty we generate by our high standards, not the least of which is the close, pro-active attention we give our business clients. But another ingredient is simply that most of the educated business people we serve have figured out–some, through trial and error, and some intuitively–that it is the know-how and experience more than the raw material that gives the business owner a leg up in his or her field. A simple illustration here might be appropriate.

Suppose I injure myself in a tennis match. I figure its a pulled muscle in my calf, and that it will vanish in a few days. But it doesn’t, and in fact worsens over the next several weeks to the point where I can barely walk. I had a few pre-med courses in college, and quickly jump on line, Googling the anatomy of the calf, sports injuries, treatments, and the like. Two hours later, I feel like an expert, and think I know enough to make a self-diagnosis. The treatment will require surgical intervention, and perhaps a six to eight week period of physical therapy following. I have a high deductible medical policy and don’t want to pay a bunch of money, so I figure this is a job I can handle myself. I go to a medical supply vendor and purchase a scalpel, a state of the art bone saw, sutures and the proper equipment to apply them, and, oh yes, topical anesthetic so I can be fully awake to concentrate as I perform the procedure. Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

It is false economy to think that I will save money by self-lawyering. Look: I understand that occasionally you might decide to use a form you can find on line for simple things, say, the filing of a UCC financing form, or  a simple set of corporate minutes. But when you begin to think that you can make smart, legally informed decisions about when and how to use a given contract for your unique business, or prepare a limited partnership or LLC operating agreement, you are wading into much deeper waters.

I wish I could  convey to you the pained look and sinking feeling some of my clients have experienced when they used a form they obtained somewhere that they were certain was a “standard form,” but realized later in my office was horribly inadequate to protect them in a lawsuit. By then–when they wanted to enforce the agreement, or needed to defend themselves with it–it was too late. They could have paid a lawyer under a thousand dollars to do the job right, based on their own unique circumstances. But, to economize, they bought a form, did it themselves, and spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars embroiled in a controversy later on. Further, the unquantifiable but very real benefit of a well-prepared set of documents was lost: the deterrent effect. An reckless employee or unscrupulous partner or vendor might take a lawyer drafted document to his own attorney and be advised that it is a solid agreement. In other words, “Don’t try what you are thinking of doing, because this agreement is air-tight.” This deterrent effect can prove invaluable to the business operator wishing to stay out of court and profitable.

So, go ahead and use a simple, statutory form here and there. But don’t “operate” on yourself, legally speaking, and expect the results to be comparable to what you would get with the scalpel in the surgeon’s hand. Don’t expect that, just because someone sold you a form, or even answered a couple of quick questions on the phone without knowing your situation fully, that you have dispensed with the need for good legal counsel. Just as a scalpel in the wrong hands can be deadly, so can a form in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how–or whether–to use it, lead to dangerous consequences.

Richard Armstrong, Principal

Richard Armstrong, Principal

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Armstrong The Law Firm, P.C.
Plano Location
1400 Gables Ct #103
Plano, TX 75075

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5601 Bridge Street, Ste. 300
Ft. Worth, Texas 76112

Phone: (972) 424-5297