The do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic has spawned a great following in America over the years, but one Midwestern state is now fighting back against the cause for self-empowerment, citing a statute last updated during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.
LegalZoom.com, an online service that allows people to create their own legal documents, including wills and leases, is facing a class action in Missouri that is set for trial Aug. 22. The case, Janson, et. al. v. LegalZoom.com, Inc., contends that LegalZoom is violating a state law—signed in 1939, long before the idea of the Internet had been gestated—prohibiting nonlawyers from preparing legal documents.
If the plaintiffs win at trial, it would effectively ban the use of any software for the preparation of any legal documents, and could impact instructional, self-help books and forms found in bookstores, libraries and office supply stores.
"If the plaintiffs are successful, we believe it is going to become a lot more expensive for small businesses and individuals to obtain basic legal forms," Chas Rampenthal, LegalZoom’s general counsel, said in a statement. "Missouri would become the only state in the nation to take away a consumer's right to access online legal document software."
A week ago, U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey denied LegalZoom’s motion for summary judgment. Judge Laughrey also ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on the issue of whether LegalZoom’s online forms relate to secular rights as opposed to religious rights as defined by Missouri statutes.
"We believe the people of Missouri will ultimately understand that banning self-help legal software that is available in every other state would be absurd," Rampenthal said. "People can use software to prepare their own tax return or do their own banking. The law should not be used to deprive consumers of technologies that make their lives more efficient."