Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

15 October 2008

Good Lawyer Needed...and Free Legal Forms Won't Cut It!

For grins and giggles, I did a Google search for "free legal forms" this evening. I was amazed to see 6,610,000 results returned in 0.13 seconds. Yes, six and one-half million hits! Heck, with that type of mass availability of documents for every conceivable transaction, who needs a lawyer?

There are literally millions of links to millions of sites offering everything from Wind Leases to Partnership Agreements, to complex Mortgage Loan Agreements...and they're all "free" for the taking. As a lawyer who routinely drafts Leases, deeds, powers of attorney, purchase and sale contracts, by-laws and other legal documents, I was more than a little disconcerted. Am I being obsolesced by the Internet -- just like travel agents and newspapers? What will I do? Is it finally time to pursue my lifelong dream of working as a Texas Game Warden? Do I need to trade in the ties for sunscreen and ballcaps?

Alas, after just a few minutes of following those links, I breathed a sigh of relief -- and maybe even slight disappointment. Turns out that those prophetic lyrics from Jimmy Buffett's "A Pirate Looks at 40" ("My occupational hazard being my occupation's just not around") weren't quite appropriate for me. In fact, I was instantly assured that the Free, EZ, Lawyer-in-a-box, Do-it-yourself, file it yourself, skip-law-school-and-the-bar- exam, forms are hardly any competition at all. Guess my time as a guardian of Texas' wildlife and natural resources will have to wait....

The internet has been called the "information superhighway." Its appeal has largely been the vast amount of information made available on it. All just a click away (better than being a "heartbeat away" I suppose). These days, you can find anything and everything on-line, much of which is yours with a simple click on the "download" button. But what are you really getting when you obtain free legal forms for use in your business, investments, and affairs? Far too often the truth is that you are getting exactly what you're paying for on a free site!

Legal forms have far reaching implications. They are significant and important. Lawyers do not give them out for free because they are powerful, and like Spiderman taught us all ..."great power requires great responsibility." Pre-packaged, and particularly free legal forms will often hurt you in the long run. Many times, they will end up costing much more than what you save by not hiring a lawyer to draft your legal documents based upon a thorough understanding of the particulars of your circumstances.

Here are a few basic and very serious concerns about pre-packaged Legal Forms.

1. The pre-packaged legal forms are designed very generally so that they enjoy broad applicability to large group of persons (the public, generally). They are not crafted to apply to your situation and facts. I call this "shotgun blast" law because the people pushing the generic forms get lots of "bang" from the bucks they spent posting the form documents. However, your important legal matters need a skilled rifle sniper who has intimate familiarity with your circumstances. Casting a bait net rarely yields a prize fish, and mass-appeal legal documents may very well miss important nuances of your situation!

2. Not all states or jurisdictions apply the same laws. For example, certain lease, contract and interest provisions which are perfectly legal and quite common in Pennsylvania may be frowned upon or perhaps even illegal in Texas. With free legal forms, you have no way of verifying which State the forms were drafted in, or which State's laws they track. The vast majority of disputes and transactions affected by legal forms are governed by state law. What is legal in New York or Louisiana may be illegal in Texas, and could void a contract that you need need to be valid. Without a lawyer's input, you have no way of verifying the applicability or legality of the provisions of a pre-packaged legal form.

3. The source of the free legal documents is often unknown. Anybody can upload to the internet a "form" or document they have crafted. I wouldn't be any less comfortable having an anonymous person draft my legal documents than I would having my mechanic review my X-Rays. What are the qualifications of the people posting the free documents? How do they make their money? Are there really 6.6 million benevolent souls who are also knowledgable in the law and capable of posting free databases to Google? I think not....but neither of us will ever know.

In sum, free, downloadable legal forms are simply not trustworthy or reliable. They are generally not worth the paper they are printed on, or the pixels they consume on your computer monitor. The money you save by not paying a lawyer to draft and review your legal documents could be spent several times over if your flimsy legal document ends up causing you to get sued...or worse. I know you'd rather pay anything than legal fees. I understand that many people think lawyers charge too much. Please understand, we lawyers generally charge a rate for the value of our services. Our time is our stock in trade. At my law firm, we spend that time in an effort to give you confidence and peace of mind. Surely that's worth a few hundred dollars an hour? In the end, it may save the several thousand we will be forced to charge to defend an invalid legal document.

Trey Wilson is a real estate, construction, water and general litigation attorney in San Antonio, with a Texas-wide law practice. He routinely drafts real estate and other legal documents including deeds, partnership agreements, Leases, Purcase and Sale Contracts, Powers of Attorney, Mortgage Agreements, and Promissory Notes. Though he dreams of being a Texas Game Warden, he has determined that the internet has not obsolesced his line of work, and that he continues to provide a very valuable service to his clients (apologies to Mr. Jimmy Buffett). For that reason, he'll buy more ties, and hold-off on memorizing the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code...for now. Trey Wilson may be reached at 210/223-4100 or

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers