Consumer Reports Finds That Do-It-Yourself Legal Service Sites Are Not A Match For Hiring A Real Lawyer

September 13th, 2012

Consumer Reports purchased four documents–a will, a car bill of sale for a seller, a home lease, and a promissory note–from LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer. A panel of expert law profs reviewed the documents in a blind test.

The verdict?

 Using any of the three services is generally better than drafting the documents yourself without legal training or not having them at all. But unless your needs are simple—say, you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse—none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs. And in some cases, the other documents aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to “an unintended result,” in Silber’s words.

At first I thought that the experts did a blind test to compare the documents prepared by the online sites to documents prepared by attorneys. But they didn’t. They simply analyzed the forms based on their own knowledge of what forms should contain.

I wonder what would happen if they added to the blind analysis forms created by attorneys who bill somewhere on the gradient from $50 to $75 to $100 to $200 to $300 an hour. That would make for a more valid comparison. Isn’t that what consumer reports aimed to show? How a will created by an internet site compares to a will created by a real lawyer? If so, that should’ve been the comparison.

H/T LawSitesBlog

Update: Also, why did Consumer Reports ask law professors and not attorneys practicing in the fields to evaluate the documents. On the one hand (not to delve too much into the academic/practice debate), practicing attorneys who write these documents all the time would probably be more in tune with what clients want and what courts look for, as opposed to professors, who may be aware of more broader trends in how courts look at these matters. But, on the other hands, I am fairly certain that practicing lawyers–who view online sites as direct competition–would not look favorably on any online form, even if they blindly review forms from three online companies (they would know none were drafted by lawyers). That is, unless, you threw into the mix documents also drafted by lawyers who charge different rates, and all of those documents were judged blindly. That would be better than taking the Pepsi Challenge!

Now, I suppose, the ultimate test would be to see how courts construe these documents. I don’t think there is any conceivable way to assess this ex ante, or even ex poste. I guess you could do a survey of people who engaged in litigation based on their documents, and ask where the docs came from, but such a test would be fraught with errors.

In any event, I don’t think this consumer reports piece proves nearly as much as it conveys.