Is "" Practicing Law?

I am puzzled about the definition of “practicing” law.
There are many on-line legal documentation services (such as legalzoom) that will prepare legal documents (like wills, partnerships, divorce agreements, etc.) for a fee.
Is this “practicing” law? I don’t see it this way-the service is not representing you in court, nor is it in any way functioning as a lawyer-it is merely putting your inputs into a document.
So, since these services are only functioning as a secretarial service, are they guilty of practicing law without a license?:dubious:

No, they’re doing paralegal work. People with actual legal questions are referred to attorneys.

Now, I know nothing about their diligence in staying on their side of the line, but their business model does not include lawyerin’.

Still, it seems that lawyers on this board are wary of even doing paralegal work online.

FWIW it was founded by a prominent lawyer who worked on O.J. Simpson’s murder defense–Shapiro, IIRC, though his first name escapes me for the nonce. I would imagine that a large operation of this type would want to keep some lawyers on staff just to make sure they do stay within the appropriate boundaries.

Robert, FYI. (I remember the ads.)

Anyway, I’d assume a site like this has examined all sorts of legal hurdles across the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if they discouraged its use in certain places.

Or Advocates, Barristers, Solicitors etc.

To answer the OP’s question.

What means by “practicing law” varies a lot, from I) preparing and filing documents, doing legal research, to ii) giving advice and dealing with clients, to iii) appearing in courts. The first is the least regulated, the last the most strictly. Depending on juridiction, very often you need no official sanction to do work of the nature that the website in question is doing.

I haven´t looked at Legalzoom in particular, but often times what you are buying is merely a template fill in the blanks form and you fill it in. It isn´t legal advice in that there is no one advising you as to what form you need or which one works best for your needs. There isn´t anyone advising you as to whether you need a will, a living trust, or a testamentary trust.

|My though would be that if they give you advice on which corporate form would be best or tell you need a trust as opposed to a will, then they have crossed the line into practicing law.

Arguably, though, if they’ve designed the forms for you, they might be practicing law, because they’re telling you (a) that a certain form is appropriate to accomplish a certain task; and (b) that filling in specific information in specific blanks will be sufficient.

And Mr. Google tells me that I’m not the only one going down that route: Suit Claims LegalZoom’s Document Prep is Unauthorized Practice, posted Feb. 19, 2010 in the ABA Journal. The article notes a putative class action filed against LegalZoom on behalf of Missouri residents, which suit itself cites a cease and desist letter from the North Carolina bar.

:confused: Does LegalZoom operate in any Jurisdiction that uses these terms? And do they actually refer anyone to them?

LegalZoom’s disclaimer specifically denies any such representation. They only claim that the documents they produce are useful tools in representing yourself, and that while they make every effort at legal sufficiency, you must consult an attorney to be certain of it. The disclaimer might not cover them completely, but it seems to be satisfactory for any jurisdiction where “legal document assistant” is a recognized not-a-lawyer profession.

This may very well be the anti-competition efforts of the state bar. However, attorneys have also weighed in that the basic model of LegalZoom is sound; the real risks lie in the nature of their advertising and in the actions of customer service representatives. Their advertising uses words like “reliable” and “dependable” to describe their documents, and that is contrary to the claims in their disclaimer. Meanwhile, their CSRs may unwittingly practice law when answering customers’ questions about follow-up actions, filing requirements, and such. Those people definitely need to be thoroughly trained in what questions not to answer, and need to err on the side of caution. To the extent that they haven’t done this, LegalZoom needs a hefty slap on the hand, some vigorous housecleaning, and maybe needs to avoid some jurisdictions altogether.

I’m in Canada, where we use the term “barrister and solicitor,” although “lawyer” works just as well, and more often. I should note that “attorney” meaning “lawyer” is in the layperson’s vocabulary also, thanks to the influence of American media. Anyway, I was able to call up LegalZoom’s web page with no difficulty, and to see some samples (I wasn’t about to spend money purchasing one); so I’d say yes, it operates in at least one jurisdiction that uses those terms.

I did not see any explicit mention that their forms are only designed to be used in the US, however. Implicitly, there were; I saw a map of the US used as a background illustration, and there was mention made of certain states (e.g. “Affidavit for use in California,” for example). But no mention of the forms being acceptable or unacceptable in other countries was made.

FWIW, I have had people walk into the office looking to have their “legal documents” notarized (in my jurisdiction, with very few exceptions, only a lawyer can be a notary public). Often, these documents turn out to be downloaded from some American internet site, and they are usually different enough that they are not in accordance with local federal or provincial legal requirements. The sad thing is that these people spent money on these useless-in-their-jurisdiction documents, and now they will have to spend more on a lawyer who can draft what they need such that the documents will do what they want them to do in their jurisdiction.