Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 134 / OCTOBER 1991 / PAGE 140

Personal Law Firm. (legal software) (evaluation)
by Carol Holzberg

Save a bundle on professional attorney's fees by minimizing time spent in a lawyers office. Personal Law Firm, BLOC Publishing's electronic do-it-yourself legal adviser, can help you do just that. You can generate 30 legal documents to take care of important personal, family, and business affairs. Menu driven and easy to use, this electronic law firm will have even computer novices more sure of their legal footing after even a minimal effort.

Personal Law Firm includes forms for a last will and testament, living will, and residential lease. You can set up revoke a power of attorney; create prenuptial, postnuptial, or marital settlement agreements; and authorize a temporary guardian for your children. Other forms help you put together a commercial real estate lease, agreements that safeguard trade secrets or intellectual property, work-for-hire contracts, promissory notes, and personal guarantees. Draw up a bill of sale, make a formal offer to purchase, issue demand letters, and more.

Once the program has been installed, just push a few buttons, answer some questions, and out pops a customized form. The program allows individuals to create a new document, revise an existing document, or print a hardcopy of a completed document. Onscreen prompts give directions every step of the way, and you can expect online help for any question you might have.

Our family lawyer, a practicing attorney in the state of Massachusetts, says that Personal Law Firm has potential. Ordinary folks shouldn't have to run to a legal professional for routine paper processing, especially when it comes to documents like a power of attorney, promissory note, or bill of sale. While the laws of different states may vary, these basic forms often prove legally valid in most jurisdictions.

On the other hand, our lawyer points out that blind faith in some Personal Law Firm documents could spell danger. For example, in the matter of a commercial real estate lease, virtually no such thing as consume protection exists. If you execute a commercial lease without going to lawyer, you can inadvertently leave out important provisions that protect your interests.

Your unease may heighten when you consider that Personal Law Firm documents were created by a member of the California bar. Laws tend to differ from state to state. For example, if landlords use the standard form for a residential lease (designed for nationwide application) in Massachusetts, they could get into serious trouble by overlooking specific state requirements concerning move in/move out inspections, escrow accounts for damage deposits, maximum limit for damage deposits and last month's rent, and other landlord obligations. These landlords could be forced to return tenant damage and security deposits before the end of the lease. They could even end up paying their tenants up to triple damages and attorney's fees.

A step in the right direction, Personal Law Firm could benefit people preparing a document for legal review. Clients might not save any money in attorney's fees, however, because lawyers often charge a set fee for completing particular documents, regardless of whether or not the client prepares an outline.

Probably best suited for a typing service run by a skilled independent paralegal, Personal Law Firm's forms require the attention of someone who knows when it's appropriate to fill in the blanks and when it's necessary to approach a lawyer. Our lawyer cautions, that a little bit of knowledge, posing as expert advice, can be as dangerous as an outdated law book.

The whole thrust of Personal Law Firm seems to suggest that individuals do not need a lawyer for certain documents. The packaging stats that the software "creates documents that are valid in 49 states and the District of Columbia." Yet a tiny note at the bottom of the box says, "BLOC Publishing offers no warranty, express or implied, as to the legality of these documents in your particular state." This disclaimer appears intended to absolve BLOC Publishing of any liability. With the possible pitfalls in mind, exercise caution when creating your legal documents. Ultimately, the price of mistakes will be paid by you.

In future versions of Personal Law Firm, I'd like to see documents tailored to the laws of specific states. I'd also like BLOC Publishing to have its attorneys include the citations which specify the legal basis for the documents included. If nothing else, the program provides some insights into the legal systems that laymen might otherwise never investigate. Citations would add to the educational value. For safety's sake, though, don't rule out an attorney or a typing service run by an independent paralegal. In law, as with the medical profession,it's sometimes wise to seek second opinions.