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How to get legal docs without hiring a lawyer

(MoneyWatch) Hiring a consultant and need a contract to seal the partnership? You generally have two options: Hire a lawyer to draft the agreement or wing it entirely on your own. Now there's a third option: Find an appropriate document at an online legal document library. It's not the same as hiring a lawyer, but there are times when you might not need to.

Docracy is an online legal document storehouse that wants to be the compromise solution between drafting your document and hiring an attorney. The site currently has more than 100 documents to choose from in categories that range from power of attorney to incorporation to non-disclosure agreements, and a slew of legal actions in between. Documents are fairly easy to find, since you can type to search or browse, either alphabetically or by category.

The documents are crowd sourced -- the site's community can update new documents, and that includes you, if you have a document you'd like to share. Likewise, a discussion tab attached to each document lets community members talk amongst themselves.

All the documents are free. In fact, the entire site is free, though the site suggests that premium features might arrive at some time in the future.

When you find the document that you need, you can download it to your PC -- either in PDF for Word format -- and customize it to your needs. Or you can edit it online. If you are satisfied with the document in its present form, the site allows you to fill in key blanks in the doc. Or, for more thorough editing, you can open the doc in an online word processor, make changes as substantial as you like, and save it back to Docracy as a private form that only you have access to. The site also lets you digitally sign the document and share it with specific individuals.

Of course, it should go without saying that Docracy can't take the place of an attorney, and uncritically using a document you find online is only slightly less dangerous than eating a pizza you found on the sidewalk. But if you are comfortable with the language of the contracts and want to bypass the attorney's fees, Docracy has a lot to offer.

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