Deciding whether to engage an attorney to assist you with a legal issue can be a difficult decision to make. On one hand, engaging an attorney can be expensive. On the other hand, form documents and online services are cheaper alternatives but may not be as effective. There is no simple answer to this question, but there is a factor all potential clients should consider: Value.
What services can an attorney provide that will add value to my situation? To determine value, you must first be clear on your objectives. What are you trying to achieve? If your goal is to create an estate plan, using form documents and online services may be appropriate. Form documents are often provided through an online service that will offer a brief description of each document and simple instructions for completing and executing the document on your own. Form documents usually address your basic concerns, such as appointing guardians, nominating executors and agents, and allowing you to describe the disposition of your estate. Thus, if your objective is to have a plan in place, an attorney may not add great value to your matter.
In the alternative, if your goal is to receive counsel so that you may make better informed decisions regarding your estate plan, then engaging an attorney will likely add value. An attorney can educate you on legal concepts that are unfamiliar to you. An attorney can also raise issues that you did not consider and provide creative solutions learned through years of experience.
After identifying your objectives, you must be clear on the costs for each of your options. Many online services offer packages that only include part of the documents and guidance you need to accomplish your goal. For example, an online service will provide you with estate planning documents (e.g. Will, Trust, Advance Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney, and Certification of Trust) but fail to include deeds and other title documents needed to properly fund your trust. Those documents or services are provided at an additional cost or require you to engage an attorney. Similarly, engaging an attorney can have unexpected expenses, such as an administrative fee or greater billable hours than expected.
Whether you engage an attorney or subscribe to an online service, be diligent about researching the cost for each service. Ask questions about what is included in the fee. Is your attorney willing to charge a flat fee? What additional services may you need and how much would those additional services cost? Only after you are clear about your objectives and the cost to achieve those objectives can you determine whether an attorney will add value to your matter.