For nearly two years I have been bombarded with television, radio, print, and internet ads touting the value and ease of using Legal Zoom for all of my legal needs. Today, I finally broke down and visited the website to see what it was all about. I was in need of registering a new “DBA,” or “Doing Business As,” which is needed when you set-up a new business and you wish to conduct business under a name other than your own. This is also called a “fictitious name,” and it is required to receive an IRS tax identification numbers, which is needed to open a business bank account.
At first, I planned to register the DBA myself, but after researching the steps online to complete the registration at the County Clerk’s office, I discovered that the process is convoluted, complicated, and inconsistent. If ever there was the right time to check out Legal Zoom, this was it.
The site was easy to navigate and I was directed to the appropriate forms with one simple search on the home page. Before proceeding, I was presented with the price of processing the forms, $99. Although the price was a bit steep compared to similar online competitors, I was convinced that this one-time cost was worth the value of having a trusted source navigate the legal landscape on my behalf. I filled out the forms and was about to submit, when I was presented with the option to also register the business within my state (wait, it’s not one in the same? I have to register in the county and state separately? If this weren’t related to government, I would be very skeptical). Okay, that seems fair, I will add that form as well, for a mere $40 extra.
I filled out the next few forms and got ready to confirm my order, but screen after screen presented additional options and 3rd party offers that I “needed” to get my business started. Don’t get me wrong, I expect to find some up-selling and I don’t mind some cross promotion, but this was bordering on ridiculous. Not only were my eyes going blurry from reading all the fine print for each additional feature, but most of the features defaulted to ‘Yes.’ Seriously, is it a safe practice to assume your customers want everything you’re offering? If I wasn’t reading carefully, and let’s be honest who reads closely on the internet, I would have signed up for about 10 “free trials” for services that I would forget about, never use, and would for which I would be paying a fee for months unbeknownst to me until I eventually checked my bank statement (don’t judge me, like you check yours regularly).
Whew, got through that minefield only to face my choice of “shipping methods.” Shipping? I’m not ordering a product from Amazon.com, I’m ordering legal services, aren’t I? Turns out, the forms have to be mailed; “Son of a b!%@#!” Well, obviously I want to accomplish this task as soon as possible, so I pick “overnight shipping” for an extra $21. My grand total at this point, $199, a mere DOUBLE the initial quote, and, oh yeah, I also signed up for a 30 day trial membership for Legal Zoom because they convinced me that I will need access to many legal documents, as a new business (of course they are right, but there’s another $7.99/mo charge).
Finished, I signed out and checked my email confirmations, all three of them. At first, it all looked good, until I read the even finer print. Remember that overnight shipping that cost me $21 (I sure did)? Turns out, I will get the forms shipped to me overnight after they are completed (1 to 3 days), and submitted to and processed by the appropriate government offices (7 to 20 days). Thank goodness I sprung for the overnight delivery, wouldn’t want to wait an extra day or two after the required 8 to 23 days (at least the wait period is predictable ß sarcasm). I will give them some credit though because after I called customer service, I was able to switch my choice to standard shipping and was credited back the $21. Don’t get me wrong, Legal Zoom provides a valuable service and has drastically expanded access to legal services to the masses. I am, however, pointing out a few glaring issues with their business model that may alienate and anger customers, possibly resulting in lost revenue instead of added revenue (or pissed off paying customers at the very least, and that doesn’t make for a glowing recommendation).