Free and the Contract

Once upon a time, law firms used wills as a loss leader. Clients would come to a law firm for a free will and in theory, the firm would have first dibs on the more lucrative probate work when the time came. These days, free contracts are the 21st century version of free wills with lots of large law firms making corporate documents, term sheet generators and other types of documents freely available, reports Tech Crunch. Only today we’d call them lead generators and not loss leaders because they bring clients to us.

Free law firm contract offerings aren’t new; I blogged about big law free platforms like this over five years ago. What is new is that law firm free now faces competition, the Tech Crunch story continues. That’s because entrepreneurs can also find free contracts at sites like Docracy, Clerky or Shake which likewise offer free tools. In fact, why even bother to pay $99 for a contract from Legal Zoom when they’re free? 

Small firms don’t necessarily have the resources to make contracts (beyond basic form agreements) freely available. Moreover, lots of the platforms that large firms use to implement these products are costly – it might be nice if a solo or small firm could white label an existing platform to replicate these services on a smaller scale. Or small firms could use document assembly suggests Ken Adams, to provide lower cost contracts to clients.

What’s your experience with free contracts? Does your firm offer free documents? Post comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Spitz on January 14, 2015 at 9:44 am

    These free documents were a great benefit for me, when I returned to practicing law after many years. I used them to build a document library that I could use, since any documents I might still have had from the old days where on 4-inch square disks (remember those?). So I’ve used these websites to get sample bylaws, NDAs, LLC operating agreements, employment and independent contractor agreements, shareholder agreements, and many other kinds of contracts. At no cost to myself.

    Here’s the rub, and here’s where the layperson has to beware. Quality is all over the place, especially at sites like Docracy. Many of these free documents have typos embedded in them, particularly documents that you download from Orrick, or Cooley, or the NVCA. A typo in the wrong place can have serious adverse consequences. Many of them are pretty complex, as well, and I don’t see the layman understanding each and every clause of these agreements. I just don’t. Which goes back to the point made in the Tech Crunch article — the law firm isn’t selling documents, it’s selling ADVICE. We sell the advice on which document you need. We sell the advice on how to customize the documents to suit your needs.

    I saw a great line from a fellow lawyer the other day on the issue of trying to start a business without budgeting for legal advice. He said that if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you have no place starting a business. I view many of these free documents as an exercise in social darwinism. The laymen that use these free documents without understanding them, without reading them, without customizing them to meet their particularized needs, are going to get taken advantage of by smarter, savvier people. The strong eat the weak for breakfast.

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