Thanks to a growing number of DIY legal websites, lawyers are feeling the heat these days. Until the 2010s, individuals needing wills and other contracts had to make an appointment with an attorney.
But now, anyone needing simple legal documents can download a customized form from the internet. Unfortunately, because of this, some lawyers are losing out on millions daily. And as a tough economy continues to squeeze Americans, more are turning to DIY legal services.
DIY Legal Services are Cheaper (and Sometimes Free)
For generations, to obtain any legal document, people had to see a lawyer. It didn’t matter whether that person was a landlord or a chief breadwinner. Because attorneys had cornered the market, they could charge as much as they wanted.
Even today, these prices have barely budged. For example, many lawyers will charge at least $300 for a will. For more complicated setups (e.g., living trusts), costs can exceed $1,000.
However, estate planning documents are relatively simple. So much so that several internet startups decided to make wills cheaper and less time-consuming. In 2021, the priciest of these options costs less than $100 to start. Most others are cheaper, with a few offering free will creation services.
But, how do these services turn a profit? Unlike lawyers, who can only serve a limited geographic area, DIY legal websites can court customers from across America.
Lawyers are No Longer Gatekeepers for Most Legal Documents
This development is a huge problem for Main Street attorneys. Until recent times, local law firms had been their community’s sole source of legal documents. But now, DIY legal doc websites have popped up across America.
On these sites, people fill in web forms with pertinent information. Then, after 20-30 minutes, they can print off their estate planning documents. That means they no longer have to call their lawyer, set up an appointment, drive to their lawyer’s office, and spend an hour or longer getting things done.
For some, DIY legal services don’t just save hundreds of dollars, but countless hours per year. That’s why legal professionals are starting to get concerned.
Who is Leading the DIY Legal Document Industry?
Over the past five years, DIY legal service websites have grabbed significant market share from the legal establishment. Now, dozens of companies provide DIY legal documents, but as always, a few stand out.
NOLO is one of the biggest players in the DIY legal field. This DIY legal document firm traces its origin to the 1970s, when they started publishing DIY legal guides. But by the 1980s, NOLO saw the potential of the personal computer. So, they began creating software, and the rest is history. Decades later, they offer multiple DIY legal document solutions, including Quicken WillMaker & Trust. From will creation to COVID-19 related forms, NOLO does it all.
However, in today’s market, NOLO is far from alone. Several other sites also act as a depot of legal documents. Of them, eForms has carved out a space as the discount provider. For $45 per document, you can acquire anything from a Bill of Sale to a Power of Attorney form.
Like NOLO, LegalZoom’s founders disliked the legal profession’s uneven playing field. So in 2001, LegalZoom launched with the mission of democratizing access to legal documents and advice. These days, they tout the services they offer business owners. But LegalZoom doesn’t stop there, as they also offer estate planning and intellectual property documents.
Customer service is one of LegalZoom’s strongest attributes. On Trustpilot, they have a score of 4.2/5 (based on over 900 reviews), and according to consumer sites like OnlineWillMakers.com, LegalZoom reviews are positive.
US Legal Wills
But as useful as the above sites are, DIY legal services have also transformed will creation. Several major players exist in this niche, but US Legal Wills is among the most prominent.
Since 2000, they’ve focused on developing and refining their excellent DIY Last Will & Testament tool. And in doing so, they’ve also added other services – of them, their Power of Attorney and Digital Vault stand out. Add in the advice provided by lawyers, and they have a strong product.
But despite the value they offer, their prices are stunningly low. For example, Last Will & Testaments start at $39.95 for an individual. And, at the other end of the scale, purchasers can get their Premium Estate Plan for less than $200 per couple.
Do Your Own Will
While US Legal Wills offers incredible value, they can’t beat free. But, that’s what Do Your Own Will offers – access to Last Will & Testament, Living Will, and Power of Attorney creation tools, all of which are free.
However, that begs the question – how does Do Your Own Will pay their hosting bills? According to their FAQ, they make money through web advertisements and affiliate relationships.
But even with this source of revenue, this budget service has downsides. Because they lack the resources of their competitors, their tools can only create basic estate planning documents. For complex situations (like living trusts), Do Your Own Will is not a great choice.
Legal Help is Still Advised in Some Circumstances
The tech disruption of the legal profession is well underway. But despite stealing market share in the legal document niche, there are situations that online tools cannot yet handle. Obviously, people cannot do litigation (i.e., suing another party) online, but other services also remain outside the online realm.
For instance, people can create a Last Will and Testament online, but they must notarize it in the presence of a lawyer. Additionally, case law and legislation are constantly changing – and some document services don’t always stay on top of things.
By consulting a lawyer, individuals can avoid making costly mistakes.
Few Industries are Safe from Technology & Automation
But like the law, technology never sleeps. In the 2000s, it seemed like online shopping would remain a boutique service for tech-savvy individuals. Today, Amazon is a trillion-dollar company, and malls are dying across the USA.
Give tech time. A decade from now, individuals will likely be able to perform even more legal functions without leaving home.