Do-it-yourself websites for legal services are common these days, in particular ones that will help you start a business, draft a contract, hire workers and deal with a variety of other legal issues that small business encounter. They generally all sell the same thing: cheap products/services and a process that you can complete in 30 minutes. All these sites are loaded with testimonials from successful business owners who wouldn't have been able to get where they are without said website. These services or websites have portals that can connect you with someone to answer your questions, suggest that their documents and information are from actual attorney's, or will be just as effective as something created for you by a real lawyer.
If you look carefully enough though you can see the disclaimers on these sites that separates them from actual legal services: informant isn't guaranteed to be accurate or up to date; we are not a law firm and cannot provide you with any legal advice; information on our website is not intended to be a substitute for a lawyer or law firm; and similar information. Despite all these disclaimers, do-it-yourself websites still try to convince customers that the advice of an actual attorney isn't necessary.
These online services are one-size fits all platforms that provide boilerplate, identical information to businesses that require unique understanding and information to address the specifics of the company. No one-size fits all solution is going to be tailored to the specifics of an individual business, which puts companies in the spot they are trying to avoid - exposing themselves to potential liability that they could avoid. Additionally, online services can't keep up with the changes a business faces as it grows and moves through the business life cycle. You're left hanging on your own to guess what you may need, as opposed to getting advice about issues you face or will face. Questions need to be answered, documents adjusted and changes in circumstances accounted for.
While online services and do-it-yourself sites may have their merits in some limited circumstances, there are several reasons why hiring a lawyer may be a more beneficial option for small business owners:
- Advisory Services. This is probably number one on the list of reasons to seek out legal services from a professional. Small business owners should use lawyers as advisors first and foremost (it's what large companies do, and there's no reason why small business should have the same opportunity). A lawyer can offer legal advice and guidance, help you make informed decisions and act as a strategic partner to you company. An attorney can help you anticipate potential issues, advise you on the best course of action and point out alternatives that you may not have considered. Do-it-yourself online sites aren't allowed to provide legal advice, they simply provide templated documents, which may lead to even more trouble if you aren't exactly sure how to answer some of the questions asked on the forms.
- Expertise and Experience. Lawyers have years of legal education and practical experience. There is specialized training in analyzing legal and risk issues, providing personalized advice, and navigating the intricacies of the legal environment. There are also mandatory continuing legal education requirements so lawyers stay on top of changes in the law, trends and best practices to better advise clients. Standardized forms and templates aren't able to offer the same level of tailored.
- Customization. This is a big one that I don't think should be overlooked. While many business face similar risks and issues (contracts and employees for example are risks faced by most businesses), every business is unique in some form or fashion and needs to be handled as such. A lawyer can provide personalized solutions and advice based on the specific needs and circumstances your company faces. Legal documents can be tailored to your business's specific needs, strategies and situations. Getting the intricacies of all this right through standardized forms that weren't built for your specific business or situation is unlikely and open up a company to risk that could be avoided.
- Communication. Communication should be a key component of any legal services (traditional or otherwise) be offered to small businesses. The legal aspect of business is often times overlooked and misunderstood, with many businesses waiting until they have a lawsuit or full blown dispute on their hands before reaching out to a lawyer. Those situations are usually (although not always) avoidable through proactive and on-going communication with a lawyer who can advise you before situations get out of hand. It's also helpful to have a real person you are communicating with, even if it's via email or another messaging system, who can understand the nuances and unique aspects of a particular situation. Those things are hard to replicate through a completely automated system that doesn't have a person on the other end at some point. Additionally, lawyers are bound by attorney-client privilege which ensures information that is communicated to them and shared with them remains confidential. This protection may not apply when using an online platform.
- Peace of Mind. Dealing with aspects of your business that aren't you area of expertise can be stressful, especially when those areas can create a lot of potential risks for the company. Often, the answer to this is to simply ignore these matters, especially when they aren't front and center on a daily basis. This may not be the most effective way to handle some of this though; you've put a lot of time, energy and money into a business and should have some level of peace of mind that it's being protected as much as possible. Having a lawyer on your side as a strategic partner and advisor can provide businesses with peace of mind that's not available from a website. Knowing you have a trusted advisor guiding you through the process, who understands the specifics of your business and is looking out for your best interest can be a valuable asset.
- Changes in Law/Best Practices. Laws and best practices when it comes to protecting your business change regularly. What works today could be what gets you in trouble tomorrow, and these changes may happen quickly. Small businesses are the most vulnerable to changes in laws and regulations that come with potential lawsuits and fines for non-compliance; they don't have set asides for lawsuits, fines and other major unexpected legal issues like large companies do. A lawyer can help your company stay on top of these changes and updates, advise you along the way and create strategies to help you remain compliant while avoiding as many hiccups to your business as possible.
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