Hello, my name is Spencer Pittman, and I am one of the attorneys with the law firm of Winters & King, a full-service legal firm in Tulsa, Oklahoma that has represented clients across the world. Winters & King is most well-known for serving clients on issues involving church, nonprofit, ministry, and corporate law. The purpose of this Podcast episode to address a question that we commonly receive by people that are unsure if they want to hire an attorney or have never been through the legal process before. For instance, we often encounter clients who may want to save money on the front end by using an online service rather than using a private attorney. We are asked if that would be something we would recommend. Would it be better to use an attorney rather than an online service? The answer is not so simple, and depends entirely on the specifics of the person’s particular legal needs, including their budget, the complexity of their case, their personal preference, and individual circumstances.
There are many different types of online form-banks or websites that advertise themselves as legal document creators, which alleviate the need for hiring an attorney. Some find these options to be enticing especially given the low cost. Using online services and their do-it-yourself format can provide a range of legal documents, such as wills, incorporation documents, and trademark applications, but they have limitations. While some of the simplest of legal forms or online services may be a good choice for the budget-conscious, it is important to note several pitfalls that many people do not realize by using these services rather than an attorney.
Take for instance a person that wants to form a company and incorporate their dream and vision. Establishing a company to incorporate your future livelihood and potential future retirement should not be a 30-minute quick process with a budget “one size fits all” mentality in mind. New business owners invest significant time, resources, money, and blood, sweat, and tears, into establishing their business. An entrepreneur will often need to put up their own assets as collateral to assist in starting or financing the business, and it can be very risky to rely on simple pre-made forms when a complex situation may require the hands of an expert, such as the attorneys at Winters & King.
Most online services can only give you a very general understanding of the law, and often contains disclaimers saying the information provided is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or even up-to-date. The business owners will want to know the legal advice they seek will be up to date, will uphold in a court of law, and will reduce their personal liability exposure. Some business owners also have particular conditions, procedures, or other internal agreements the incorporators or directors will want in their governing documents or bylaws to suit their unique necessities and preferences. In these cases, the money saved in the front end to form a business may be significantly outweighed by the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees, costs, and expenses in litigating a partnership dispute or other business issue that could have been easily addressed in the front end if brought to the attention of an experienced business lawyer, such as the attorneys at Winters & King.
The same is true for estate planning. Most of these online services serve as a glorified form bank for the person to insert names of beneficiaries and assets. Unique family situations are generally the norm whereas simple family situations are generally the exception. Many times, fill-in-the-blank forms will not be able to encompass the complexities of your life or your wishes and desires you want to be included in your estate planning. Consulting with an estate planning attorney allows you to have a personalized service, meaning your particular needs and substantive questions can be addressed, but more importantly, included in your estate planning documents in accordance with your wishes.
So what’s the cost? If you decide to go with a budget-friendly approach and use an online service, you may not be able to articulate your unique situations and relationships. The online services are generally not attorneys, do not owe you a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest, and may even push you for significant upcharges, even if unnecessary. For instance, mistakes in estate planning documents can also be very costly for a family, and in some circumstances, can lead to the assets in an estate being completely drained in litigation. You want to have the proper estate planning set up by an experienced attorney. Also, laws are constantly changing. The attorneys at Winters & King let their clients know of significant legal changes that may affect them, and remind and encourage estate planning clients to update their estate planning documents in case their current life goals, circumstances, and events necessitate changes.
Ultimately, the decision to use an online service or a real attorney, such as the attorneys at Winters & King, will depend on the complexity of your legal matter, your budget, and your personal preferences. If you have a restricted budget and need only a simple and one-time routine legal task, an online service may be a good option for you. However, for more complex legal issues, such as starting a new business, creating legally enforceable contracts that will be scrutinized by government agencies, estate planning, or dealing with a dispute that may lead to (or has already resulted in formal litigation), consulting with a the attorneys at Winters & King will likely be your best course of action.
The attorneys at Winters & King have decades of experience in advising clients on complex legal matters, including forming businesses, drafting contracts, protecting legal rights, establishing a strong and secure estate plan, and helping to identify and avoid potential future liabilities or exposure to disputes, issues on which an online service would not be able to assist. Call the attorneys at Winters & King at 918-494-6868 to discuss your legal issues in more detail.
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