google with law degree










By: Kelly Jasin

Emens & Wolper Law Firm, Columbus, Ohio

Today this picture popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.  After I finished (not so) quietly chuckling to myself over the countless first-hand experiences playing like a highlight reel in my head, I got to thinking of how true this phrase rings for today’s professionals. In the internet age, not just lawyers, but doctors, financial advisors, professors and countless other professionals face this on a daily basis.  In fact, as I sit here writing this, I remember just this week I confronted a doctor with “facts” I found on the internet contradicting his medical opinion.  We are all guilty of it – even those of us who should know better!

In my practice, I have particularly noticed this trend in the transactional field.  People say things like “Why should I hire you to form an LLC instead of using LegalZoom for $150?” or “What’s wrong with this Will I found on the internet?” or my all-time favorite, “I found this article regarding X on the internet, why didn’t you recommend this for me?”

So, here are my TOP 5 reasons (although there are more) NOT to play lawyer on the internet:

  1. The law is always evolving. To find true, up-to-date and accurate legal research answers, you must have the most current information.  A prudent lawyer follows case updates weekly in their areas of practice so they are always current and well versed on changes in their field.  Articles from just a month ago may be out of date in light of a recent court decision!
  2. The internet service does not follow-through with details. Have you ever heard the phrase, the devil is in the details? What many internet legal services lack is just that – details! For example, many people form LLCs in order to limit their personal liability in business dealings.  Internet services that offer to form business entities such as LLC’s simply charge you a $150 fee for filling in the necessary forms to file with the state and submitting them.  They do not inform you of all the other necessary steps you must take in order to get that “limited liability” protection, such as complying with annual statutory requirements, having an operating agreement, filing with any necessary tax departments, etc. If your goal is not accomplished, did you really receive any value for your “discount” $150 fee?
  3. Lawyers are trained to analyze and distinguish your case from others. Lawyers are trained to parse out details and distinguish facts on a case to case basis – that is what we do.  What may seem like “exactly my case” in an article, may produce a completely different legal opinion based on one small fact found in the case opinion itself.
  4. Articles cover the rule, not the exception! Nothing rings truer to a proficient lawyer when asked about their practice – the root of most legal problems is not the “rule”, it is the “exception to the rule”. For example, if you are reading an article that says IRAs are protected from creditors (the rule), you don’t know that inherited IRAs are not protected based on a recent US Supreme Court ruling (the exception to the rule).
  5. The article may be discussing a different jurisdiction. People tend to generalize information found on the internet. That article you are reading about division of marital assets in divorces may be based on Ohio law, when you live in California which is a community property state where the same rules do not apply.

So, next time you consider playing “lawyer on the internet”, please reconsider! And I promise, I will stop confusing Google with a medical degree!