An increasingly popular – and controversial – category of service providers are those that supply customer-specific documents over the Internet, using interactive software and/or human resources, without purporting to be engaged in the practice of law. There are literally hundreds of these legal documents Web sites. More of these legal document Web sites launch every month, of not every week on the Internet.
These Web sites include for example:
- courts and government agencies
- physical form suppliers, such as Blumberg
- packaged software, such as Quicken’s Will Maker or Broderbund’s WillWriter
- online form sites, such as US Legal Forms, SmartLegalForms, DivorceLawInfo, or CompleteCase.com
- free online document repositories such as Docracy
- organizations, such as the Association of Corporate Counsel
- commercial online document preparation services, such as Koncision, LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, and WhichDraft
- nonprofit and governmental sites, such as LawHelp Interactive
- free online document generation services by law firms such as Goodwin Procter, Orrick, Perkins Coie, and Wilson Sonsini
- contract analysis sites, such as KIIAC,
- independent licensed notaries public or legal document assistants or technicians in states such as Arizona, California, and Florida
- conventional private law practices and corporate law departments
- virtual law practices, with secure client portals
The Task Force believes that there are common principles that ought to guide these legal document sites, and practices that consumers should be able to expect. The eLawyering Task Force also recognizes that consumers have different levels of knowledge in meeting their documentation needs. Some believe, for instance, that it is simply a matter of getting “the” right form, and pay little attention to careful drafting and appropriate execution. Others have a more sophisticated understanding of options and implications. Nevertheless there should be baseline expectations that meets the needs of all kinds of users. The goal is not to issue a "seal off approval" of these legal document Web sites. The objective is to encourage these Web sites to use acknowledged "best practices" in the development and delivery of their services.
These guidelines do not take a position on whether certain document services may constitute the unauthorized practice of law in certain jurisdictions if not performed by a licensed attorney, other than to urge providers to know and observe applicable law on that thorny subject.
The primary purpose is to aid consumers in making informed decisions about what they are buying.
Comments on these Guidelines are invited. They can be submitted on the eLawyering Task Force ListServ which any lawyer can join, Click here.
This is an open meeting and individuals who want to submit comments on these Guidelines are invited to attend and participate.
In accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guidelines Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonial in Advertising" I am disclosing that I have a material connection to some of the companies referred to in this Post. I am the Founder/CEO of DirectLaw, a virtual law firm platform provider and SmartLegalForms, a web-based legal document provider. The opinions expressed here are my own. I did not receive any compensation from any source for writing this post. DirectLaw sponsors this blog by paying for the costs of hosting.