Somebody once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. In a nutshell, bad news is still good publicity, so long as they spell your name correctly. LegalZoom.com is back in the news again, and the company might disagree with the age-old marketing adage right now.
For those not familiar with the self-appointed titan of online lawyering, LegalZoom was founded in part by Robert Shapiro, who you should remember was a leading element of O.J. Simpson’s legal team several years ago. The company provides a litany of online legal services and boasts the ability to serve individuals who might otherwise not be able to afford the expense of an actual attorney. For the most part, the nine-year-old company’s services seem centered on a do-it-yourself approach, specializing in providing what are claimed to be “common” or “routine” documents – things like Wills and documents to form a business.
Now, the company is playing defense. A recent class action lawsuit has accused LegalZoom of unfair and deceptive business practices. The company is accused of leading customers to practice law without a license, assisting in the unauthorized practice of law, and using fraudulent business practices.
The chief plaintiff, Katherine Webster, has sued as the Executor of the Estate of Anthony Ferrantino, and as Trustee of the Anthony J. Ferrantino Living Trust. LegalZoom provided several document forms, including a trust, a will and a power of attorney. Per the company’s model, the customer essentially wrote the documents herself by answering several questions, while a computer created the documents based upon the answers. But the documents were flawed, the plaintiff claims, and those flaws cost the Estate severely.
LegalZoom is not the only company of its kind. It’s just the only one that uses a well-known attorney-founder as its spokesperson, lending security and credibility that some might claim is unjustified. The suit at hand will determine if LegalZoom in fact made misrepresentations, buried disclaimers and omitted relevant facts when courting customers through its advertising. It should be interesting to follow, and should at least serve as a cautionary tale for clients with real and often complex legal issues. Perhaps another adage may teach all of us a valuable lesson – you get what you pay for.