by Brenda Speer
I appreciate economy and trying to save oneself some money. That’s what DIY (do-it-yourself) is all about. If you have the time and talent (or the time and desire to acquire the talent) to perform a task yourself, then kudos to you. If you don’t have the time, talent or desire, then delegate to and pay someone knowledgeable to do it for you. For a legal task, that means hire an attorney.
My 23+ years of experience as an attorney has taught me at least one thing: If you are not a licensed attorney, don’t try to do your own legal work. Yes, I know that you can represent yourself, but it’s highly unadvisable absent a significant educational undertaking. I have yet to encounter a self-representative DIY legal amateur who took even a modicum of time to educate himself about the legal task he attempted to do—as was reflected in the unfortunate results.
Even we attorneys don’t do our own legal work if it is out of our realm of expertise. For example, I hired an attorney to prepare wills for me and my husband, because this is not an area of law that I practice. Per the adage: He who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Those who undertake DIY Legal do themselves a disservice. First, they do not do the work correctly and create legal perils for themselves. Second, they spend more money and time than they would have spent had they hired an attorney in the first place, because they have to pay the attorney both to unravel their mess and then to redo it properly.
DIY Legal can be deceptively seductive. For instance, the DIY-er sees a form is involved for a particular legal task and thinks, “How hard can it be? All you have to do is fill out a form.” Well, the first deception is that knowledge is required as to what information goes in the form. The second deception is that a form is often only a small part of what is required of an overall process.
A common example frequently encountered by our firm: DIY formation of a legal entity such as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. The DIY-er thinks all that is needed to create an LLC in Colorado is to file the Articles of Organization form with the Secretary of State. Wrong—there’s additional documentation that is needed beyond what is filed with the Secretary of State. As an example of the DIY-er not knowing what information goes in the form, the Articles of Organization have a check-the-box option for either (a) a manager-managed LLC, or (b) a member-managed LLC. Does the DIY-er know what are the differences and legal ramifications between these two modes of operation of an LLC? I say no, because I have yet to meet a legal DIY-er who can answer that question.
Another pitfall into which entity formation DIY-ers tumble: They think that because their entity name is on file that they also have trademark protection in place. Wrong again. DIY-ers learn this the hard way when they want to stop someone else from using their mark and find out that their legal protection is weak at best.
Speaking of trademarks, attempting to prosecute their own federal trademark registration application is another minefield for DIY-ers. DIY-ers don’t know that there are strict timelines involved in prosecuting a trademark application. As a result, they fail to respond timely and consequently their trademark application is abandoned. The abandonment cannot be fixed and the filing fee paid for the application is nonrefundable. The DIY-er has to start over and pay another filing fee for a new application.
Another fallacy of DIY-ers is that they can prepare their own contract. What they create is usually a cut-and-paste bastardization of documents found on their computer from other unrelated deals or on the internet (which is another legal peril). Again, unless the DIY-er knows what his hodge-podge verbiage means from a legal perspective, then he has just set himself up for a legal dispute, because he has no idea what obligations he and the other party did or did not undertake.
Also, it is erroneous for a DIY-er to think that he’s saving money or helping his attorney out by preparing his own contract. What the attorney needs to know are the business terms agreed to between the parties and the attorney can most efficiently prepare an agreement from that information. An attorney having to edit and rewrite a cobbled mess is much more inefficient and costly.
THE MORAL of all my examples is:
HIRE A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY with relevant legal experience to do your legal work! I don’t do criminal defense work and I jokingly, but earnestly, tell my clients to never waste their quarter calling me from jail. I don’t have the requisite criminal legal experience and knowledge to help them. However, I am happy to assist my clients with legal work within my realm of expertise, or to help them find a qualified attorney for matters outside my field.
© 2012 BL Speer & Associates