Self-Help Law – Good Enough or Recipe for Disaster?

We are heading to a legal services world where increasingly more legal advice and legal services will be provided online. It is not a matter of if, but when. And people have access to massive amounts of information and advice online – some good, some not so good. For many online businesses geography and thus jurisdiction is unimportant and revenue can come from almost anywhere in the world.

Combine that, and it is easy for a business to take the attitude that it can figure it all out itself – without the help of lawyers or accountants. Or at the very least that it won’t call in the lawyers or accountants until something goes wrong. This mindset runs counter to the theory that Susskind and others have about business wanting lawyers to be proactive and be a “fence at the top of a hill rather than an ambulance at the bottom.”

The self-help attitude can however cause a lot of problems, especially when one doesn’t know what they don’t know, or doesn’t know the right questions to ask.

For example, a Canadian business doing business internationally might think it needs to incorporate a company in the US or some other jurisdiction. In some situations, that can be a good thing to do. But before a business does that, it is crucial to get legal and accounting advice. Without it, it could be creating huge tax and compliance burdens, costing in the end far more money than it would have cost to get the advice to do it right in the first place.

One of the difficult challenges that clients and lawyers alike increasingly have to face is knowing when the self help solution is “good enough”, and when it is a recipe for disaster.


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