I am an attorney so, obviously, I have a strong interest in convincing you of this statement. Having said that, the skills I have acquired as an attorney make me all too aware of how risky it is to do-it-yourself.
We all know that hiring an attorney can be expensive, depending on the reason you need one. Let me remind you, however, that time is money for everyone. Not only do attorneys know how to efficiently use their time, their knowledge of the law, and their acquired skill sets better than most people can work through legal issues on their own, but your time is worth something, too! Imagine how much time you will need to spend if you want to read/study yourself in order to “get up to speed” on a particular issue or area of law. As a result, even those with the best intentions tend to go to online legal sites and download some kind of “one size fits all” form, fill it out, and sign it.
I’m talking now specifically about transactional work (as opposed to litigation). There’s another set of great reasons to hire an attorney for litigation issues instead of going pro se (on your own without representation). But, this blog entry is to address specifically the kind of law I personally practice. And, transactional work is what I do (agreements of various kinds, wills, power of attorney, health care directives, among others). Here’s what I tell my clients who ask why they need an attorney for these documents:
1) Ensure Validity of Your Documents
In short, every type of legal document must be validly executed. Each type of legal document has its own set of expectations (either as common practice or defined by statute). If you’ve ever executed a will or a health care directive, for example, you know that forms, signatures, type of information included, witnesses, notary public, and circumstances under which the documents were created, just to name a few, all matter. If any of these things are missing, ill planned, or improperly executed, the document may be invalidated. If it’s invalidated, the document is not binding (not followed). Hello?!
When you take this responsibility on yourself, you are likely going to have incorrect, or inadequate information. All your reasons for executing a document in the first place, commonly something of great importance to you and/or those you care for, are wasted. An attorney can help you understand the differences between and the reasons for what must happen, what may happen, and what should happen in executing any document. Isn’t an important document like a will worth executing properly?
2) Clarity and Accomplishment of Your Goals for Your Documents
Just because you think a statement is clear or a document serves your purposes doesn’t mean that your goals are being met in that document. An attorney can assist you in articulating and clarifying your goals (even making sure your goals are legal in some cases!). Once those goals have been articulated, an attorney can provide you with the right document that will serve those goals. It’s so easy to make assumptions that accidentally undermine your goals when you don’t know the area of law or common practice. Using the wrong form, the wrong format, the wrong vocabulary, or even making illegal (and therefore invalid) agreements, are just a few of the most obvious and common mistakes. Let an attorney help you define and accomplish what you need to do.
3) Prevent Errors and Accidents in your Documents, and Avoid Disputes
Wills and Health Care Directives are the most common places for error and dispute in the areas in which I practice regularly. In Health Care Directives (HCD), what laypersons often fall victim to when they execute their own documents is accidentally drafting unclear, incomplete, or contradictory instructions because they don’t have the breadth of experience to know how language can be misunderstood or unclear to someone else. Often these accidents of communication aren’t even discovered until someone (like the family or the medical staff) needs to use the HCD. That’s commonly too late to ask you what you really meant! Did you or didn’t you want to be an organ donor? What did you mean by “extraordinary measures?” Did that include intubation or not? What about feeding tubes?
And, disputes…….! Nothing like multiple meanings to language or accidental meaning to language to cause hurt, misunderstandings, or, worse yet, a genuine dispute that leads to litigation. An attorney can assist you with avoiding error and accidents in your drafting, and can assist you in avoiding disputes by understanding and explaining to you options and potential reactions to your document’s language and meaning.
An attorney is not always the answer, but an attorney can be an invaluable guide as you decide what your needs are, how to take care of those needs, and how to execute valid, binding legal documents that serve your needs the way you expected them to, ensure your goals are met, and confirm what is important to you is protected.
If affordability still concerns you, I offer the following suggestions: If you are low-income, make a request and apply for legal assistance with local pro bono (free or low cost) legal services. If you would not be eligible for such assistance but are still concerned about the cost, have a conversation with an attorney and find out about potential alternative fee arrangements (fixed fee and/or payment plans, for example). I am willing to work with clients under many financial plans, as are a number of attorneys in my area. Ask and find out what options you may have.
This blog is written by Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Attorney DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC www.decorolaw.com
ALL READERS: This blog is not, nor shall it be deemed to be, legal advice or counsel. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. It is designed to encourage thoughtful consideration of important legal issues with the expectation that readers will seek professional advice from a licensed attorney.Contact Bridget-Michaele Reischl at: DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC 6 West 5th Street, Suite 800-D Saint Paul, MN 55102 (651)-321-3058