self-help

If you ask a bunch of solos and smalls of their opinion about automated legal-form fillers like LegalZoom, you’re likely to hear one of the following reactions:

Reaction #1: Legal Zoom doesn’t worry me at all. Let’s face it, consumers have always had the option of buying forms – if not from Legal Zoom, then from an office supply store or Nolo. But the clients who come to me want more than a form – they want someone to advise them on options or strategize about their business or to work through a stressful family situation or personal matter. In fact, some of my best clients simply want an ongoing relationship with a lawyer whom they can call with questions in advance of a decision to stay out of trouble to begin with. LegalZoom can’t provide those services.

Reaction #2: LegalZoom? What’s the big deal? I use it all the time. What I mean is that if I get a call from a small entrepreneur – like a mom planning to start a web design business out of her house, or a group of students running a lawn mowing service – who can’t pay for much and really only want an LLC or a basic contract, I’ll direct them to resources online where they can find free forms or contracts – and I might mention automated services like LegalZoom if clients don’t want to take the time to fill out the documents themselves. Sometimes, if clients are on the fence about using forms or hiring me, I’ll walk them through the LegalZoom site and explain that for many services, LegalZoom pricing isn’t that much less expensive when they consider the amount of time that LegalZoom requires to complete the documents, as well as the fact that the fees don’t include attorney advice, an assurance of confidentiality through attorney-client privilege or malpractice protection….

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Last week, I thought my life had ended. No, it was not the announcement that All My Children is ending this week. That tragedy I learned to live with once I found out that online episodes will start airing this winter. It was because my iPhone broke, or at least I thought it had.

I panicked. I, like those fax machine loving small-firm attorneys, am not tech savvy. So, I went straight to the Apple website and set up an appointment at the Genius Bar. As I was waiting for my appointment, I emailed a friend to ask her if she had any idea on how to fix my phone. She responded, “Did you Google it?” No, I had not. And, within thirty seconds of web-searching, I had found the solution to my problem.

I realized from our email exchange that there are two types of people in this world: people who are helpless, and those who help themselves. Since learning that I had yet another issue to work on, I set out to find a small-firm lawyer who practices self-help.

Meet Jessica Fairchild of Fairchild Law Offices, LLC. Fairchild, a University of Chicago graduate and former Sidley Austin attorney, started her own firm in May 2010. Fairchild’s path to solo success was the result of this lady making things happen. While I would unlikely be able to follow suit unless there is a way to use the Genius Bar to find small firm success (niche alert!), you can try for yourself by following these steps….

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