Response to “It’s buyer beware for online legal services”.

Many thanks go out to Mark C. Robins of LawyerLocate for mentioning an article written by Daniel Lublin in today’s Metro News. The article is entitled “It’s buyer beware for online legal services”. In that article, Mr. Daniel Lublin (a noted Toronto employment lawyer) talks about the bad experience of a couple who bought a contractor agreement online from a lawyer’s website.

Let me begin by making something very clear: that lawyer WAS NOT ME and that contract WAS NOT sold on this website. How can I be so sure?

Well, for starters: I checked our records and it turns out that we only sold our “Independent Contractor Form” to EMPLOYMENT LAWYERS! Indeed, I spoke with those employment lawyers and, as it turns out, they actually liked the package we had put together for $97.

Second, while I always tout that our legal forms are offered at a fraction of the cost a lawyer would charge, I never sold “’contracts’ at a discount” (these words were taken from the article). Indeed, I would never characterize my legal form packages as anything other than high quality products sold for a reasonable price. I don’t discount anything. If you can afford a lawyer, then I always suggest you go and hire one. If you can’t, however, and your alternative is to have no legal agreement that protects your interests or advances your rights, then that’s where my legal form packages come into play. They try to cater to those who can’t afford to spend $350 / hour on a typical Toronto lawyer. It’s all about access to SOME justice. It’s not a light switch that goes on (I can afford a lawyer) or off (I can’t afford a lawyer). There has to be something in-between to help out the general public. But I digress…

Now, apart from these things, a few other things are worth mentioning. In the article, Mr. Lublin discusses how the legal form itself was missing a termination section which would have otherwise allowed the couple to terminate the contract. You see that was the big problem: that contract, for whatever reason, said that the term was for 1 year instead of 6 months and had NO termination provision (so the couple couldn’t terminate the contract before the 1 year was up)! Ouch! Mr. Lublin goes on to say:

“The problem is that the contract they bought online did not allow them to end the job early without paying for the remaining time on the contract (something that most employment lawyers should spot as a matter of course) and, worse yet, the lawyer who sold it to them had not bothered to discuss that with them, since they never even met. As this couple now owed the contractor twice the fee they initially expected to pay him, the “contract” they bought online ultimately cost them much more than they paid for it.”

Well, given that I know a thing or two about employment law, I realized when drafting MY particular independent contractor agreement, that the client may need a right to terminate. And here is that right (straight for the legal form we sell on this website): “the Client may terminate this Agreement at any time by giving [insert time period] written notice to the Contractor of its intention to terminate.” So you can’t miss it! Even if the term of the agreement was for 1 year, the client would still have the right to terminate by providing notice under the agreement.

Finally, in the DL Guide that also comes with the legal form (for FREE), I also state the following about termination:

Term and Termination
You’ll also want to discuss the term and method of terminating the agreement. In the latter, the Client will typically want to include the concept of Just Cause (e.g. which could include serious misconduct or breach of the independent contractor agreement), which a client can raise to terminate the independent contractor at any time and without the requirement to provide notice or payment in lieu thereof. You’ll also find termination provisions dealing with a party unilaterally ending the contract by simply providing notice or by mutual written agreement. You can, if you wish, add further termination clauses such that the agreement is terminated on the death or bankruptcy of one of the parties, or if one of the parties attempts to make an assignment contrary to the agreement.

So there you have it. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about me or this website when it comes to selling legal forms. While I feel bad for the couple that may have ended up paying a contractor for more than they bargained for, it wasn’t my legal form package that was used. Indeed, as you can see above, to help safeguard against people NOT REALIZING or KNOWING what they were contracting for, I take the extra step of:

  • Trying to make sure that the agreement is written in HUMAN and not legalese;
  • Adding a FREE Video Tutorial that shows an example of how to fill out the form;
  • Adding a FREE Written Guide that discusses the legal issues the parties should be aware of when entering into that particular legal form (I spend considerable time researching, drafting, and updating this guide); and
  • Adding another FREE Written Guide entitled “Is My Legal Form Valid and Enforceable”.

It is through these steps that I try to give as much valuable information to the general public so that, if they can’t or don’t want to hire a lawyer, then at least they have some idea as to what the agreement is all about.

Now, importantly, I want to turn back to the article and Mr. Lublin’s overall conclusion, which I will reiterate here:

“What should the public do? Avoid purchasing legal products over the Internet, however tempting that may be. There are few rules that limit lawyers without much experience in employment law from professing they practise it on their websites and in the media – and unfortunately they do, often to the public’s detriment.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that nobody’s perfect. Lawyers are human too and they make mistakes. I try to avoid making mistakes by being transparent and offering a ton of free legal information (which would otherwise cost thousands of dollars worth of a lawyer’s time to prepare for a particular person). Finally, I always encourage people to have independent legal advice or get their legal form reviewed by a lawyer (presumably, at a fraction of the cost a lawyer would typically charge to draft, revise and negotiate the whole thing). So, based on these things, should the public “[a]void purchasing legal forms over the Internet”? I don’t think so. And I don’t think the public will do so either. We all expect technology to reduce the cost of legal services and make it more accessible. The Internet is here to do exactly that. Legal forms have been around online for a long time and they’re not going away any time soon. It is my hope – and I hope that Mr. Lublin will agree – that the public should be better educated about legal forms and that, if they can afford it, they should definitely get a lawyer involved.

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