With the increase in the number of legal forms available online, I find that my friends and acquaintances are asking me whether they need to get an attorney. (No, really, like once a week lately). Indeed, the forms and handbooks make it look pretty simple. I never want to over-exaggerate the importance or expertise that a lawyer may bring to the table and heaven knows there are a good number of examples of folks doing things without an attorney and everything turned out ok. Still, I believe that there is prudence in obtaining counsel.
There are literally millions of laws on the books. As it is today, there are almost no general practitioners left in the legal profession. That is because it is nearly impossible for an attorney to be proficient in numerous areas of the law. Thus, an attorney who gets outside of his or her main area of practice finds it necessary to engage in a lot of research in order to be competent. If this is the case for those engaged in the practice of law on a daily basis, it is even more so for those who only touch on legal issues occasionally.
The law is really not different than other issues such as health. If you have a persistent pain in your right side, you can certainly engage in self-diagnosis. There are numerous websites available and friends and family have undoubtedly had the same or similar pain. You could also see your doctor or go to another treatment facility. It could be a back issue, a muscle strain or some other relatively minor problem or it could be something life threatening like appendicitis.
Essentially, the issue is the extent to which you are willing to accept risk. If you go to a doctor, you can describe your pain and situation to a real human being who knows what questions to ask and either has or can obtain a medical history. The doctor can also make observations that you, your family or the website cannot make and can tap into his or her personal experience and knowledge about healthcare to determine if the problem is severe. A self-diagnosis could save you an $80.00 copay or it could cost you your life.
In the legal world, you can simply go online, find a set of wills, answer a couple of questions, and print out the documents. If you follow the directions well, chances are you will never have a problem. Everything will work out fine much of the time. The issues are not as dramatic as in my example above. Maybe if you had met with an attorney who specialized in estate planning for an hour, you could have saved some money in taxes or handled distributions better. Or, maybe you could have avoided disinheriting your children accidentally. (I am not exaggerating here; this is not that difficult to do.)
Most folks don’t run to the doctor for every ache or pain they have. For the most part, we seem to have a pretty good idea naturally when we need some help. I would say that we should apply the same common sense approach to hiring attorneys. The one warning I would give is to remember that the folks on the other side usually have an attorney and they are not looking out for your best interest.