Last week’s column closed with a reference to obtaining legal
documents from online websites. I said, “Online sites that offer these
documents might be tempting, but you should avoid them unless they are
offered by a licensed Texas attorney.” Several people asked me to explain
why they should avoid form websites when the prices are so enticing.
First, the form websites use workers who are not licensed to practice law.
They employ software to knock out cookie cutter legal forms like Wills or
medical directives. Sometimes they call their forms “attorney prepared,"
but what they mean is that a lawyer provided the underlying form, not that
a lawyer has prepared anything specifically for you. Instead, your
specific papers are either computer generated or filled-in by a clerical
In fact, if you examine the form websites closely,
you’ll find legally required disclaimers like "You should consult an
attorney in your state for serious legal matters. We are not a substitute
for the advice of an attorney."
By contrast, using an online
service from a licensed and board certified Texas attorney should give you
access to that attorney’s experience and advice. The attorney should be
individually crafting your legal documents based on your specific
situation and legal needs. To practice law in Texas the attorney must be
licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas, and should be board certified as a
Second, the form websites are not legally private or
confidential. One form website says it “is not a law firm and is not a
substitute for an attorney or law firm. Communications … are not protected
by the attorney-client privilege or work product doctrine.”
different form website "protects" your privacy with this un-protective
policy: "We may collect and/or track … information knowingly provided by
you through on-line forms… We may also use your personal, demographic and
profile data … for marketing and promotional purposes…. We reserve the
right to share, rent, sell, or otherwise disclose data we collect to third
parties." Are they providing the legal forms service at such enticing
prices so they can obtain your personal data for resale?
contrast, a licensed attorney must comply with the Texas Rules of
Disciplinary Conduct. One of the rules requires the attorney to treat your
private information as confidential. Your communications with a licensed
attorney are typically also protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Third, the form websites provide a false sense of security. You
think they provided good legal documents, but they may be using forms that
have never been tested before the Texas courts. One form website is
registered as a “legal document assistant” in Los Angeles, California but
provides preparation of legal documents claimed to be valid under Texas
law. Another form website omits legal provisions which are critically
important under Texas law.
The form websites often provide
cookie-cutter mass produced forms that meet only the bare statutory
requirements. In truth, statutory forms fall short of providing effective
legal solutions. For example, the last major update to the Texas Medical
Power of Attorney statutory form was in 1999. Since then, the federal
HIPAA confidentiality rules were enacted – yet the current Texas statutory
form completely ignores HIPAA. For an example of deficiencies in the Texas
Statutory Power of Attorney, view the annotated statutory form on my
website at www.Premack.com/AnnotatedPOA.pdf.
By contrast, legal
services from a licensed and board certified Texas attorney should correct
for and protect you from those deficiencies. Working with a licensed
attorney means you are treating your legal documents as important and
serious. These documents provide solutions to the most critical problems
you may ever face. What if you suffer a stroke or get Alzheimer's? How
will your hard-earned money be used? Will your savings be wasted, or will
your savings be used for things you most need and care about? What if you
die? If you have young children, who will care for them, raise them and
manage their inheritance?
Stay away from forms websites that are
not offered by a licensed Texas attorney. You should seek reliability,
enforceability and experience from a licensed and board certified Texas