How Safe Are "Downloaded Contracts"?

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Written by George Hancock Jr. | June 26th, 2019
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Being a freelancer, I've used documents from LegalZoom and other websites as contracts. You go to the site, follow some steps, fill in some blanks and end up with a legal document that you and your contractee can sign. I would prefer having an attorney to help with these things, but who has time and money for that, especially when the contract is probably not going to be valid for long?

LegalZoom offers a brief disclaimer when you use its services, saying the website isn't intended to replace an attorney's advice. To me, that seems obvious. These documents are legal and binding when parties have signed, however. That's what I need them for. But many in the law community say it's not enough. The North Carolina Bar even filed an Antitrust suit against LegalZoom, saying troubles associated with lack of a formal legal representation may cost users more than a lawyer would. It's a fair argument but isn't using these documents a calculated risk? The trade off might be thousands of dollars for a lawyer's advice, if needed, and his personal evaluation of the document's text. We don't know how well this lawyer will evaluate the document to make it more suitable. It may also be a standard text that is mostly "fill in the blank."

So what would I suggest? Get a lawyer if you can afford it. The more that is at stake and the longer the contract will be valid, the stronger your need for an attorney is. If you're going to do freelance work for someone over a period of a few weeks (and for little pay), attorney's fees probably aren't going to seem worth it. Take a hint, attorneys (you're expensive). If you're working on a will, the last thing you want to do is screw it up and leave your family with the wrong words. You're probably in a position to pay for legal fees in this case. So, do it.

Finding a good lawyer and making sure everything is in place is safer than the DIY route. Notice I said "good lawyer." Make sure your due diligence is complete when you find one. Having a bad lawyer could be worse then drafting a document by pulling words out of the sky on your own. Take the safest route you can, always.

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