Like everything else in this world, the internet is rapidly changing the practice of law, even business law, and this is mainly a very good thing. It is a gross understatement to say that most very small businesses and startups are not well served by conventional law firms. We know that. Corporate and commercial law needs are disproportionately high in the early stages of a new business, before there are big revenues to pay for them. There are ways to deal with this upfront lump of legal costs, but many owners don’t want to negotiate amortized legal fees for some reason I don’t entirely understand.
Understandably then, entrepreneurs feel compelled to go online to incorporate and to create various forms of contracts: NDAs, project agreements, assignments, consulting and employment agreements – whatever they may need. I think this is terrific; it really improves access to the law for those firms with a limited budget. It doesn’t take billings away from our firm, as we don’t seek out one-off incorporations or contract jobs. We seek ongoing working relationships with firms that have increasing business law needs over the long term, and are able to pay as they go in order to get a reasonable amount of assurance and assistance.
Problem here is that the online services don’t provide any legal guidance to prevent the user from making very costly, sometime irreversible mistakes, mistakes that will cost a multiple of the savings from not using a competent lawyer in the first place. Also, the online resources may reflect U.S. or U.K. law, or the law of another province. It can make a huge difference.
And, something that DIYers never seem to understand, is that there is no such thing as a standard or perfect agreement for any application. It depends. Savvy lawyers have at least two versions of every type of contract: one is biased to one side and the other is drawn mainly for the benefit of the other side. This is not plumbing or electrical engineering; there is no objectively correct version, it depends. This important distinction is totally missed or inadvertently subsumed in using an online template without legal guidance or extensive research.
I’ve seen fatally flawed incorporations (no share capital created, or incorporator was a partnership) and dead in the water statutory amalgamations (cancelled retrospectively) that cost the clients thousands in remedial legal costs to fix. I’ve recently seen a dreadful assignment of lease taken off a website that totally missed the real goal of such document: to get the assignor off the hook. Sometimes, we can fix the problem, and sometimes, we can’t. Not a pretty picture in either case.
So, by all means use online resources to conserve cash when incorporating a new corporation or creating business agreements. But, I recommend that you read up on the task – there is so much good free info on the Web from law and accounting firms – before you press “Submit”.