A matter of quality – the differences between online legal documents
The Law Society of each State guards the legislative right for lawyers to exclusively practice the law. The uniform legal profession laws of each State expressly prohibit individuals and entities who are not qualified persons from practicing law in the respective States. There are reasons why this legislation exists. Law is complex. It needs to be respected if a client’s legal position is to be properly managed.
With the increase of demand and the driving down of prices following significant economic challenges many professionals who need legal work seek the cheapest option for their clients. There is an increasing trend for legal documents to be produced and purchased online.
Indeed, while it is understandable why this is occurring, it is also necessary to think a little about the inherent risk involved for these professionals. This article will touch on some of the key issues surrounding the use of web-based suppliers for the supply of legal documents.
Web-based suppliers offer online services where the end user inputs information into a web page which then produces a document automatically. These suppliers produce standard documents which may not be reviewed by a qualified lawyer and which may not necessarily be tailored to your or your client’s specific requirements. This could result in a lower quality product with questionable legal effectiveness. Reckon Docs’ product offering is backed by lawyers, professional indemnity insurance and with access to a legal team for any customisations, reviews and enquiries. For example, a client is able to call a taxation and commercial lawyer, located in Sydney Australia – to enquire about – for example – a limited recourse borrowing arrangement and legal issues surrounding their use or to discuss the amending of their client’s deed to exclude foreign beneficiaries in accordance with the relevant Duties Acts in each State – or even to discuss which type of Reckon Docs product may be more suitable for a particular client and/or whether the standard product needs to be customised or amended to suit the clients needs.
With Reckon you can also seek urgent, crisis type assistance on matters where deeds done elsewhere have been “mucked up” or which do not meet the needs of a financier – requiring urgent amendments to enable (for example) a property settlement to occur. Under the various pieces of state legislation broadly speaking persons who are not qualified lawyers are restricted from ‘engaging in legal practice’.
An accountant who uses web-based suppliers for deeds may fall within a category of unqualified persons performing legal work which is outside the normal practice of their profession. The issue here is that – in completing an on-line form for the completion of a document – the accountant makes value judgements as to what to and what not to include in that document which may have legal ramifications. This may be considered legal advice in that the accountant is providing options to their client as to what course of action is best in their circumstance in relation to a legal document. Most professional indemnity insurance policies do not cover and in some case explicitly restrict financial advisors and accountants from providing legal services.
The making of value judgements in relation to your client’s circumstances can constitute legal advice. Any mistake or error may not be covered by the accountant’s professional indemnity insurance. A simple way which financial planners and accountants can avoid any issues of insurance and reduce the likelihood of a negligence claim is to have a lawyer draft or amend your deed or other legal document.
While lawyers have legal professional indemnity insurance, they also have the ability to quickly and effectively produce documents and amendments. This also saves time and money. The reduction of costs and complexity provided by Reckon Docs is essential to the provision of affordable and accessible legal services. Reckon Docs provides documents differently from most online document providers. The deeds for one are initially drafted and regularly maintained by a team of qualified lawyers. The document is produced by Reckon’s highly trained staff and reviewed and updated by a qualified legal team on a regular basis. This team is also receptive to the occasional suggestions of the client base for amendment and improvement of the document. With any customised documents which are out of the norm, they are produced by the Reckon Docs team of lawyers, PGG Legal.
It may not be best practice to simply produce something like a superannuation deed upgrade online without a lawyer completely reading and reviewing each deed in the chain of deeds from the time the fund was created.
Similarly, it may be imprudent to produce an amendment to a discretionary trust deed online. The law in relation to trust deed amendments is complex and is constantly developing. Legal input is needed. At Reckon Docs you have that legal support via easy access to the Reckon lawyers.
The documents may not be as cheap as those produced by an accountant himself using an online subscription system but the risks – for your client and for you – are better managed.
By Peter Gell and Adrian Wyper