Don’t Rely On Do-It-Yourself Legal Advice

A Legal Well-Check Should Be On Your “To Do” List

Seeing an attorney is not very high on the average person’s “To Do” list. In fact, most people rarely think of an attorney unless it is part of the punch line of a good joke or there is an immediate issue, such as a speeding ticket, possible litigation or will probate. Even when there may be an acute need, the most commonly asked question is “Why do I need to hire an attorney?” In this online age, “The Google” as my mom refers to it, can always find the “expert” that can teach you how to make fall-off-the-bone ribs or solve almost anything. But what about legal issues?

Many people tackle seemingly routine legal concerns using the wonders of Google. Yet those same people are diligent about seeking professional expertise for annual medical check-ups with family physicians, dental cleanings, vision checks, oil changes and seasonal boat maintenance. Why?  I found the answer examining my own backwards logic.

When something needs to be fixed around my home, I insist on doing it. I tell my wife I am a do-it-yourselfer (DIYer) because I like to learn new things. I am a DIYer in part because of pride. The true reality is I am cheap and enjoy saving a buck. Because I have access to Google, I have semi-successfully undertaken many home projects including automotive work, painting, installing hardwood floors and even plumbing. I say semi-successfully because even when completed most of my “successful” projects have taken many times more man hours and dollars than if I had just hired a professional. I persisted in my DIY attitude, until one day I met with a friend who needed my legal help interpreting a contract.

My friend was very much like me, a DIYer. He had done some minor plumbing work in his kids’ second-story bathroom years ago. His handy work performed beautifully over the years, or so he thought. The reality is that his plumbing work developed a slow leak over time, imperceptible to the eye or ear, that resulted in significant damage to his home. Not really a legal issue, except that the insurance company was disputing the claim under the language of the insurance contract. He was facing repairs costing several thousand dollars. The money saved by doing it himself did not look like such a bargain now.

Similar legal perils abound in even seemingly straightforward scenarios such as handling a speeding ticket, preparing a will, or signing a release. Even well-meaning agreements and contracts between family and friends can hide potential pitfalls that may not surface until years later causing you to really, really need an attorney. Such was the case of another friend who entered into a business relationship with a college roommate. They remain friends to this day, but are no longer partners and are both poorer because of one ex-wife.

The reason my DIY home projects always took so long is because I would drive back and forth to Lowe’s Hardware or the auto parts store multiple times with the wrong parts or wrong questions. You DIYers know the drill. Despite Google and following instructions to the letter, nothing ever went as planned. Worse yet, I often times didn’t ask the right question or know the questions to ask.

Ask yourself these legal questions: Is my will updated? Will it do what I want it to do? What happens if my business partner gets divorced? Will his new girlfriend have the same vision in our mission statement? How will that affect my interest in the business? Is my employment agreement at the new dream job good or bad? Can I still make healthcare decisions and get healthcare information for my 18-year-old I am putting through college? Who pays my medical bills if I get hit by an uninsured, texting, drunk driver? Can my spouse really get half of everything in a divorce?

Do you know the answers to these questions? Do You know other legal questions you should be asking yourself? Think of it as a “Legal Well-Check.” A conversation with an attorney may provide you with the answers you seek, as well as the peace of mind that your interests and those of your family have been addressed. The truth is, it is never a problem, until it’s a problem … and then it could be a really big problem! Find out on the front end and save yourself the headaches and possible financial burdens.