Seven Questions with Robert Shapiro, Attorney and Co-Founder of LegalZoom

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Robert Shapiro attorney and co-founder of LegalZoom
LA has a diverse cast of characters. Whether it's the characters with stirring stories or interesting occupations or the people who are just simply characters, this town has them all. In an effort to get to know some of those characters a little better, we've created "Seven Questions with..." If you have a suggestion for a future Seven Questions subject send us an email.

Today's subject is Robert Shapiro.

Robert Shapiro is one of the most recognized attorneys in the world who has been involved in numerous high profile cases, including the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in which Shapiro was a member of the "Dream Team" of defense attorneys. Shapiro, who has also has represented famous athletes Darryl Strawberry and José Canseco, as well as other celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Christian Brando, has over 31 years of legal experience. Alongside fellow attorneys Brian Liu and Brian Lee, and Eddie Hartman (a technology exec), Shapiro founded LegalZoom, the online legal documentation service.

The long-time Los Angeles resident who grew up in the Pico and La Cienega area, graduated from UCLA in 1965 and Loyola Law School in 1968, took time out last month to exchange emails with LAist about his work with LegalZoom, the city he loves, sports, charity work and high profile cases. (He did not, however, answer our questions regarding the Simpson trial or Phil Spector, Shapiro respectfully declined answering questions on those topics.)

Although this email exchange occurred prior to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Steve McNair, Shapiro does shed some light on the importance of wills.

1.) What motivated you to start a LegalZoom? How would you describe what LegalZoom does for their customers?
I believe that everyone should have access to the benefits and protection of the law. But not everyone knows an attorney or has the money and time to hire an attorney. That’s why we started LegalZoom—to make it easy for families and small business owners to get the important legal documents they need to protect their families and launch their dreams. In early 2000, we saw the Internet changing existing businesses and spurring new industries. We witnessed everything from the birth of online tax preparation to online travel, and we thought, “Why not law?” The Internet made it possible to provide the information and tools to empower people do their own research and create their own legal documents.

2.) Back in 2007, you told the Wall Street Journal Law Blog that you like representing athletes. What is it about athletes that you like? Are you a sports fan?
I’ve always been a sports fan. Growing up in Los Angeles, I loved the Pacific Coast League and the Hollywood Stars. Today, it’s the Lakers, Dodgers, and Kings. I’m also a huge boxing fan. My father used to take me to the Olympic Auditorium and the Hollywood Legion Stadium for local fights when I was a kid. I’m still a regular at the fights in LA and at most of the fights in Las Vegas. I’ve always looked up to athletes as role models. I admire their skill and their commitment to excellence. I’m also an amateur boxer and still spar regularly.

3.) What separates LegalZoom's services from a legal form that can be purchased from an on-line legal form web site like US Legal Forms, which are available at much less cost?
LegalZoom offers full-service document preparation and filing—not just blank forms. For example, if you purchase a LegalZoom Incorporation package, we don’t just send you a blank Articles of Incorporation form. We complete the document for you based on the answers you provide in our online questionnaire, and we review your answers for consistency and common mistakes. We also check to make sure the company name you chose is available. Then we file the document with the Secretary of State (in the case of California, we hand-deliver the document to save our customers about 6 weeks in turn-around time.) We can even obtain the corporation’s federal tax ID number directly from the IRS.

4.) As someone who has been involved in many high profile cases, do you believe that athletes and celebrities are treated differently by the justice system because those involved in the case know that their actions are being carefully watched by the public eye?
This is a difficult question to answer in short form. For a longer answer, see my article in LA Confidential, May issue. Over the course of my career, I have represented many high-profile celebrities, athletes, and politicians. There is no question they are treated differently. Generally speaking, they are held to higher standard, and the media usually takes point of view of guilt. The intense media focus can make it very difficult for the defense. On occasion, a client’s celebrity can work to his or her favor, especially if the person is likeable before a jury.

5.) Who would you say is LegalZoom's typical customer? What legal document do most people need and could get from LegalZoom?
Some of our most popular documents are Last Wills, Living Wills, and Powers of Attorney. These are important legal documents that just about everyone needs. Even if you don’t have a lot of assets, a last will is essential if you have minor children because it allows you to name a guardian for them in the event something happens to you. And if Terri Schiavo taught us anything, it’s that having a Living Will is critical for stating your wishes about life support.

We also help small business owners incorporate their businesses and form LLCs. These business structures help shield a business owner’s personal assets against liability, and they can also offer significant tax savings. LegalZoom also helps people file small claims actions, create real estate deeds, file provisional patent applications, and more.

6.) You're a UCLA grad, a Loyola Law School grad and work and live here in LA. What do you love about this city? What are some of your favorite things to do and places to go in LA?
I grew up in an apartment in the Pico and La Cienega area. My entire family lived in the complex, including my grandparents and cousins. We were a typical working, middle-class family, and I received a public education until law school. There is a lot to love about this city. I have always enjoyed the weather, the beaches, and the city’s many outdoor activities. I especially love riding on the bike path from Venice to Hermosa Beach, hiking in Franklin Canyon, and going to good restaurants.

7.) You are the chairman of the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Awareness. Describe the work that the charity has done and is doing, and how important the foundation is to your life? Are there any other charities you are involved with?
I support many charities, but my main focus is the Brent Shapiro Foundation. It obviously has great personal significance to me, and I’m proud of the work the foundation has done. Some of the initiatives include: distributing free Save-a-Life cards to schools across the U.S., publishing a children’s book featuring a sober character, and creating a living memorial website that pays tribute to the victims of the disease and allows families to grieve and share their thoughts. To raise awareness, we also host an annual Sober Day USA celebration with a high profile, non-alcoholic, Hollywood-style party. The foundation has also produced a website with information about the disease and a PSA video featuring true-life testimonials and stories about the devastation of drug and alcohol dependence. To learn more, please visit www.brentshapiro.org.