The Washington Attorney General’s Office wants to be sure consumers aren’t misled by LegalZoom’s cost-saving claims.

Normally, I try not to comment on this blog about the various do-it-yourself estate planning services out there – whether offered through software subscription or online. I think my readers generally understand the importance of properly planning (or administering) an estate, and value both the personal relationship and qualified counsel they receive from an attorney. Having said that, however, something came up recently in the news regarding LegalZoom that I feel compelled to mention here.

The State of Washington has just entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with LegalZoom relating to charges that LegalZoom is engaging in the unauthorized  practice of law. You can read the press release from the Attorney General’s office and download the actual settlement on their site. Here is the LegalZoom Assurance of Discontinuance.

So, why did I choose to comment about THIS case? Because I think it highlights a critical issue that many consumers overlook, the issue of Client Confidentiality.  LegalZoom was investigated, not only for the unauthorized practice of law, but also for turning over sensitive, privately identifying personal and financial information to third parties.

I don’t think consumers necessarily understand the difference between disclosing personal, confidential information to an attorney, and sharing that same information with others.  The attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest recognized privileges for confidential communications. In fact, this privilege has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It is the foundation for confidentiality in all legal matters. This privilege exists only between the attorney and the client and does not include non-lawyer personnel.  You can read more about Attorney-Client Confidentiality in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct on the website of the American Bar Association.

I do realize that some people cannot resist the temptation to do-it-yourself, whether out of a sense of personal accomplishment, or the desire to save money. I just would caution everyone to take caution in disclosing personal, confidential, identifying information about yourself and/or your estate.

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