Beware what you buy online

Date: 2011
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro
People often get exactly what they pay for. This is as true in law as it is in life. Here is one story that should give people pause when they are offered legal services over the Internet.
Recently, a couple came to me seeking a second opinion following a dispute with a temporary contractor they hired, or so they thought. They had found a lawyer online, selling precedent “contracts” at a discount. Since this couple was new to their business, they were unfortunately drawn to this lawyer’s website, believing they would get a solid product without spending money on a lawyer’s time.
The couple explained that they had sought to hire an individual contractor to complete a few tasks. After that, they would not need him anymore. They swiftly purchased one of this lawyer’s “contracts” online and gave it to the individual to sign, not realizing that what they had purchased was much different from what they actually needed the contractor to sign.
After he had completed his tasks within the first six months, the contractor’s job was done. No problem there. However, the contract they had signed guaranteed him one year’s worth of work. Even though the individual was no longer needed, when the couple attempted to end his employment early, he demanded pay for the remaining six months, arguing that his contract was for a defined term.
The problem is that the contract they bought online did not allow them to end the job early without paying for the remaining time on the contract (something that most employment lawyers should spot as a matter of course) and, worse yet, the lawyer who sold it to them had not bothered to discuss that with them, since they never even met! As this couple now owed the contractor twice the fee they initially expected to pay him, the “contract” they bought online ultimately cost them much more than they paid for it.
What should the public do? Avoid purchasing legal products over the Internet, however tempting that may be. There are few rules that limit lawyers without much experience in employment law from professing that they practise it on their websites and in the media – and unfortunately they do, often to the public’s detriment.