For good reason, many legal regulatory bodies have attempted to limit the services offered in their jurisdictions by do-it-yourself legal services providers such as LegalZoom. The primary grounds for these efforts is the protection of consumers from unenforceable or ineffectual legal work product churned out by overly simplified software that is inherently unable to provide sound individualized legal advice.  A related theme of these actions is prevention of the unauthorized practice of law by a person (or entity) that has not passed a bar exam, a character fitness examination, etc.

A number of legal actions have been leveled against LegalZoom. For the first time, LegalZoom is initiating its own suit, in this instance against the State Bar of North Carolina. It seeks a declaration that the company is permitted to sell its legal document preparation services in North Carolina (and, secondarily, can be licensed by the state as a provider of pre-paid legal services). Happenings precipitating the North Carolina suit have been the basis for actions against LegalZoom pending, e.g., in Pennsylvania and Missouri.

By its own admission, LegalZoom is not a law firm and cannot offer legal advice (this is acknowledged in the small print on their website, though there is a persuasive argument that the consumer is not adequately informed of the lack of authorization or its ramifications). LegalZoom’s own in-house counsel has instructed that its customer service reps should not answer any question that depends on the asking individual’s personal circumstance. That would seem to severely limit the integrity and value of the service, wouldn’t it?

The primary question is:  isn’t it dangerous for a consumer to be sold what should be an individually tailored professional work product without personal interaction with, and advice from, a professional?

Keep an eye out to see if North Carolina protects its citizens. This year, its General Assembly passed a law to allow its individual citizens to sue over the unauthorized practice of law. Attorneys have publicly said that LegalZoom might be an appropriate target for its application.

For your protection as a legal services consumer, here is further discussion on the particulars of why using a do-it-yourself legal services company (or finding a random Internet template legal agreement and trying yourself to fit it to your situation) can create a big problem for you.

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