THE DANGERS OF USING "STANDARD LEGAL FORMS"

What Are Standard Legal Forms?

As the world enters the information age, the availability of legal resources continues to exponentially increase. Among these resources are “Standard Legal Forms”. There are literally thousands of different forms that are just one mouse click away from being downloaded and used. In addition, these “general” forms cover hundreds of situations, all the way from starting a business, to creating a will. The difficulty arises in determining the reliability of the source providing the forms, and whether the form is appropriate in a particular situation. Often, this determination is impossible for any person to make without first having the experience and training that lawyers possess. However, this does not mean that these forms are “bad”; rather, it means that people should understand the benefits they provide and the dangers they pose. 

How Do Attorneys Use Standard Legal Forms?

Historically and in present day, the use of standard forms is predominantly an attorney tool. Attorneys will use these forms as a starting point for the documents they are drafting and will often borrow structure or language from multiple forms. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for large parts of the standard forms to be deleted as unnecessary and for a large amount of other material to be added in. This is because forms are generic and nature and almost every legal situation is specific and unique. Similarly, this mosaic of legal work will then usually require numerous revisions in order to accomplish the uniformity needed to create a comprehensive legal document that avoids confusion. This is necessary due to the large amount of language in these forms that create legal obligations apart from the blanks that are filled in. Often, seemingly simple words carry large legal significance and a lawyer will provide a different perspective in assuring that the client’s objectives are met.

How Can Standard Legal Forms Be Used to Save on Legal Fees?

However, this does not mean that a non-lawyer should not use standard forms at all. It is an attorney’s job to insure that they carry out their client’s objectives to best of their ability. If a client is using a standard form and noting why they believe it is good form for their legal objective, they will often be assisting an attorney in achieving the client’s goals by helping make their intent clearer. An attorney can then identify things that are important to a client without having to have prolonged consultations, thereby saving on legal fees. Similarly, and as discussed above, this may also reduce legal fees by reducing the amount of time an attorney may have to devote to researching the drafting of the document. Lastly, if a standard form is to be used. The non-lawyer should at the very least consult an attorney to simply review the form and advise the non-lawyer as to whether or not the relevant interests are being protected. Clients take a gamble when they use a standard form without legal advice. While they hope to reduce their legal fees by not using an attorney at all, the costs of having an attorney review a document are cheap when compared to the fees incurred from litigating over something that should have been taken out from or added into the standard legal form.

By: Alejandro Felce, November 8th, 2013.