LegalZoom Serves North Carolina: High Quality, Affordable Legal Documents Remain an Option For North Carolina Consumers

LegalZoom is pleased to confirm to our customers and to the public at large that, despite the efforts of a few, isolated members of the North Carolina State Bar, North Carolina consumers, like consumers from all fifty states, continue to have the option to choose LegalZoom.

For the past 150 years, some have opposed more accessible and affordable legal services to enhance their own competitive position. Their efforts were without lasting success. We believe that those who wish to continue fighting against consumers’ right to handle their own legal matters will meet the same fate. No jurisdiction, including North Carolina, prohibits the sale of legal forms with written instructions, whether in a publication or online.  No jurisdiction prohibits scrivener services.  No jurisdiction prohibits the sale of legal document software to the general public which dynamically generates a document based on a customer’s unique input.  To suggest otherwise ignores the extensive body of case law affirming the First Amendment rights of individuals to represent themselves and of legal publishers to make tools available to assist those individuals. LegalZoom is continuing the centuries-old legal right of providing self-help law, using the internet.

This is important for North Carolina consumers.  Numerous state and national studies show most Americans are not able to afford legal services.  According to Professor Laurence Tribe, Senior Counselor for Access to Justice at the US Department of Justice, “three out of five in the middle class have serious legal needs that remain unmet because justice is beyond their economic reach.”  According to the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, 80% of the civil legal aid needs of the poor go unmet.  

LegalZoom was created to help fill these urgent and unmet needs. From the beginning, we wanted to set new standards for convenience and affordable legal access. We believe it should be easy for everyone to protect their family with a will and to pursue their dream of business ownership. 

LegalZoom provides a high-quality, much needed self-help document service to people who might choose not to hire an attorney or cannot afford one. 

In 2003, the North Carolina State Bar Authorized Practice Committee opened an inquiry into LegalZoom’s online self-help legal document preparation services and whether LegalZoom engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.  LegalZoom cooperated fully, and on August 23, 2003, the Committee wrote to LegalZoom that the Committee had “carefully considered” the information received by it and provided by LegalZoom, and voted to dismiss the complaint.

In January 2007, although LegalZoom’s business practices had not changed, the Committee opened a second inquiry, raising a specific concern about LegalZoom being named as the incorporator of corporations formed by its customers in North Carolina.  LegalZoom responded to the Committee’s inquiry with a detailed letter from its general counsel, Charles Rampenthal, confirming that LegalZoom’s business model had not materially changed since 2003.  Additionally, Rampenthal traveled to Raleigh and attended the Authorized Practice Committee hearing that was held on April 23, 2008.  He was forthcoming about LegalZoom’s business practices and responded to questions from Committee members.

The Committee voted to respond with a “Letter of Caution” – and issued the same on May 5, 2008.  The letter stated that the Committee had reached a contrary conclusion to its 2003 letter.  The letter provided LegalZoom notice of the Committee’s opinion and its demand that LegalZoom “stop engaging in [its] activities now.” 

LegalZoom responded to the May 5, 2008 Letter of Caution in detail, explaining that the Committee’s 2003 conclusion was correct, and that its 2008 conclusion was based on mistaken assumptions about LegalZoom’s business practices and the applicable law.  LegalZoom’s North Carolina counsel, former American Bar Association President AP Carlton, also provided a legal opinion explaining that, under North Carolina law, the automated document preparation and filing service provided by LegalZoom does not constitute the “organizing” of a corporation, and therefore is not the unauthorized practice of law. 

Carlton explains that the Letter of Caution did not prohibit any activity and that the Committee has no authority for the prohibition of any LegalZoom activities.  Members of the public have the right to perform their own self-help legal services with or without the help of LegalZoom’s self-help legal document services.  LegalZoom provides resources to help members of the public accomplish their goals.

More than two years have passed since the Letter of Caution, and the North Carolina State Bar has neither responded substantively to LegalZoom’s response nor taken any enforcement action.  In light of the North Carolina State Bar’s letter confirming receipt of LegalZoom’s response, and LegalZoom’s understanding that the State Bar has recently removed the Letter of Caution from its website, LegalZoom can only conclude the State Bar was satisfied with the company’s position. 

Founded in 2000, LegalZoom has served over one million customers.  It has an exceptionally high rate of customer satisfaction.  LegalZoom surveys every customer who completes a purchase and over 96% of those who respond say they would refer LegalZoom to friends and colleagues.  LegalZoom is a Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) accredited business and participates in the BBB’s OnLine Reliability Program.  LegalZoom has an “A” rating with the BBB. 

North Carolina customers agree on the merits of LegalZoom.  For example, Gail H. says, “Excellent work!  A tremendous time and money saver for my hectic schedule.  I've been trying to get this done for 3 years and finished it in about an hour.”  Dale R. adds, “This is my second experience with [LegalZoom].  I am just as amazed at your thoroughness and speed this time as I was last time.  Thank you for your exceptional service.”

LegalZoom has an exceptionally generous satisfaction guarantee.  Displayed prominently on the website, the policy provides that if a customer is not satisfied for any reason, they simply call LegalZoom during normal business hours, within 60 days of purchase, and LegalZoom will process a refund or authorize an exchange.

LegalZoom will continue to fight for the public’s right to represent themselves and to accomplish their legal goals using self-help services.