One Size Rarely Fits All

I have never dazzled anyone with my physique. Lanky arms, narrow shoulders, and a giraffe-like neck. Not exactly central casting. Consequently, off the rack clothing tends to result in sleeves too short, shirts too baggy, and trousers sliding off the hips. I have spent a lot of money on tailors over the years, and they have earned every penny, letting out cuffs, taking in seams, or, better yet, cutting from whole cloth to my unique proportions. I am proof positive that one size rarely fits all.

The same is true of legal documents. When I receive the ubiquitous question “Do you have a simple template I could work with?” I give a little sigh and try to explain... without sounding too thin-skinned... that there is actually a little bit of skill in what we lawyers do. The primary purpose of legal documents is to provide clarity and certainty to a given transaction or relationship. As with body types, most every transaction or legal relationship is unique in one or more ways.

Do not misunderstand me. We lawyers have loads of electronic files filled with documents we have worked with in the past, and we have multiple subscription services from which we purchase “forms,” “samples,” “models,” and “templates.” Rarely do we create a legal document from whole cloth. The trick is in the tailoring. What to cut, what to add, what to leave alone.

Practically, here are the two common problems I encounter when clients resort to a “do it yourself” template. First, they often start with the wrong form to begin with... a document that does not apply directly to the transaction or relationship they seek to capture. Imagine someone intending to sell their business’s assets but working with a purchase agreement that calls for the sale of stock in the business itself. These are similar transactions, to be sure, but with significantly different legal consequences. Second, do-it-yourselfs often fall prey to “user error.” Not trained in legal language and process, they enter incorrect information into their drafts. Just this past week, I worked with a client who was lending money to someone else. To secure a lien against the borrower’s assets, my client needed to submit a two-page intake form from which a vendor would generate a ”standard” security agreement. Although she is a very successful, experienced businesswoman, it took her three tries to complete the intake form properly. Remember the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out”? You cannot generate a helpful legal document if you do not include the pertinent information accurately.

I know this all sounds a bit self-serving from a professional who earns his keep charging fees to create legal documents. I also know that, as artificial intelligence continues to improve, consumers of legal services will have more and better opportunities to locate and generate cost-effective legal documents in the same way Stitch Fix and Trunk Club have created options beyond the local tailor. That is all fine, fair, and good. But at the end of the day, you still need to look in the mirror and give an honest assessment of whether your clothes truly fit. If you cannot tell or are not sure, best to depend on someone who can.