Why Your Laptop is Not Your Lawyer

Of all of the amazing changes and conveniences that the Internet Age has brought us, one of the more powerful and pervasive is what has been called the “democratization of information.” Just as with the invention of the printing press and the spread of literacy, the Internet has put information and knowledge that used to be either hard to obtain or was the exclusive province of the highly educated in the hands of anyone with a computer, tablet, or even a smartphone.

Knowledge, information, and opinions about legal issues are not immune to this phenomenon. When you have a question about a particular legal matter or want learn more about a particular issue, I would be surprised if, at some point, you didn’t do a Google search to see what you could find out online. If and when you decide to look for a lawyer to assist you, even if you received a referral from a friend or colleague, my hunch is you still Googled the lawyer’s name, looked at their LinkedIn profile, or combed their website.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course. Arming yourself with information is a good thing.  However, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, particularly when it relates to something as complicated and potentially life-changing as complex legal matters.  This is even more true when that “knowledge” comes from the Internet, awash as it is with dubious, unverified, or misleading facts and advice.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many people who thought that they could save a few dollars by relying on the Internet or do-it-yourself legal sites to help them with a legal matter, only to wind up in my office with even larger and more costly problems because they thought they could save money by handling the matter on their own without speaking with a qualified lawyer. This is particularly true when individuals or businesses try to engage in complex transactions, business entity formations, estate planning, or other legal issues using form documents they find at an office supply store or on the do-it-yourself legal sites that have become so prolific in this Internet Age.

The standard forms found in these forums do not account for the specifics of your individual factual situation, may not be properly tailored to the laws of your state, and may not be sufficient to address facts or contingencies of which you may not even be aware that could put you at risk. In addition, by their own admission, these do-it-yourself Internet sites do NOT provide legal advice or any assurance that the forms and information are accurate, legally sufficient for your particular circumstances, or even current and up to date.

The disclaimers on these web sites are filled with caveats. Among those caveats typically found, and prominently displayed, are that (1) the site provider is not a law firm; (2) the site provider and its employees are not acting as your attorney; (3) the service provided is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney; (4) no attorney-client relationship is created by use of the site; (5) communications with the site are not protected by the attorney-client privilege or any otherwise applicable work-product doctrine; (6) the work created on the site is not reviewed for legal sufficiency, no legal conclusions are drawn, no legal advice is provided, and the law is not applied to the facts of your particular situation by the operators of the site; (7) the legal information or the documents obtained on the site are not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or up to date; and (8) general information or legal tools such as those found on the site visited cannot fit every circumstance.

I have also seen too many people who think legal research can be done effectively by non-lawyers on the Internet, then try to tell me they know what the law is, and I should rely on their research in my representation of them. Unfortunately, they are rarely correct. I have learned my research skills from three years of law school and nearly 40 years of practice. When you hire me, you hire that expertise and experience. Finding, understanding, interpreting, and applying legal research to the unique facts of your matter is harder than most people think. One of my favorite clients once gave me a coffee cup that I keep in my office for clients to see. It says: “Please Do Not Confuse Your Google Search With My Law Degree.” One of my favorite sayings!

These do-it-yourself websites, forms found in an office supply store, and research efforts by non-lawyers, cannot substitute for the advice, counsel, and guidance of an experienced lawyer. Rather than risk your important legal matter, that can significantly affect your lifestyle or business if done improperly, seek the advice of a competent and qualified lawyer with experience and expertise in similar matters. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss your legal issue, please call the Cohen Law Firm today at (805) 267-7147 or send an e-mail to Randall Cohen at racohen@racohenlawfirm.com.

This article has been prepared by Cohen Law Firm for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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