Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers on Thursday ended a long-running dispute between the North Carolina State Bar and LegalZoom by passing legislation that allows online services to provide legal documents in the state.
The House and the Senate both unanimously passed House Bill 436 after a conference committee spent months negotiating the final language in the bill. The measure now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory.
The bill redefines the term "practice of law" in the state by exempting services that provide blank legal documents, such as wills, lease agreements and promissory notes, that people can fill out online, purchase and print. The services must register with the State Bar every year, and each type of document must be reviewed and approved by a licensed North Carolina attorney before going online.
The services also must include a disclaimer that the online documents aren't a substitute for seeking legal advice, and any customer satisfaction disputes must be referred to the State Bar.
"The Internet has changed the way consumers get services, and this is a first step in adjusting to the online presence of legal services," said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke.
The State Bar and LegalZoom have been at odds for years, with state officials accusing the website of offering legal advice without a license and LegalZoom arguing that the State Bar was trying to unfairly block competition.
Before the Senate vote, Daniel, who is an attorney in Morganton, issued a warning to North Carolina residents: "I would say that it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to rely on a Web-based legal service to prepare any significant life documents," he said. "That's my free legal advice for the week."