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February 15, 2004

For-Profit Self Help Chain Invades NYC

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:00 pm

The New York Times has an article today about a plan to open 45 storefront, for-profit, legal self-help offices in New York City.  The centers would be part of a major expansion by We the People Forms and Service Centers USA, and its CEO Ira T. Distenfeld.  The company has had problems in many states with bar efforts to block their services — by claiming they constitute the unauthorized practice of law — but has so far fought off 26 of 29 lawsuits.  It “helps people fill out legal forms for bankruptcies, wills, incorporations, uncontested divorces and the like for as little as $199.”  (NYT, Moving in on New York Lawyers, 02-15-04; thanks to Howard for the perma-link)


fife drum   Here’s a taste of the story from the NYT article:

  • “Twenty-six of the lawsuits have been dismissed or have been won by We the People, and it is starting to gain grudging acceptance in law circles. And now it has a business ally who may help it win even greater respectability: Rudolph W. Giuliani.” [through his consulting firm, Giulini Partners] 

  • “‘They tout themselves as a document-typing service,’ said William Anaya, a Chicago lawyer who represents the Illinois State Bar Association in the case. ‘It’s our position that they are more than that. They are making a profit on the marginal practice of law, putting clients at risk.'”

  • ‘Mr. Distenfield says he thinks he knows why opponents may go to such lengths. ‘Because of us, some lawyers are Maytag repairmen waiting for their phone to ring,’ he said. ‘We’re the only large company out there that offers affordable legal access to the underserved.'”

  • “[WtP attorney Jason E.] Searns also cited a recent public opinion letter issued by the Federal Trade Commission and endorsed by the Justice Department that criticizes the American Bar Association’s definition of practicing law as overly restrictive. The letter, he said, urges a balance between protecting consumers and giving them access to alternative forms of legal assistance.”

Find the FTC/DOJ Statement here, and much more on our UPL resource page.  The bar needs this competitive spur and the People need competent service options that are affordable. .

1 Comment

  1. […]    Earlier today, Rick Georges posted about a newspaper article that focused on the recent opening of several We the People document preparation stores in the Tampa Bay area.  See “DIY stores walk fine line between law help, outlaw: They can offer document prep but not advice,” St. Petersburg Times, by Carrie Weiner, March 19, 2007.  For my money, you can get a more well-rounded picture of We the People USA by reading two additional articles:  ”Moving In on New York Lawyers” (New York Times, Feb. 15, 2004; discussed at f/k/a); and “First Kill the Lawyers… … on the price for basic legal paperwork” (Money/, April, 1, 2004). […]

    Comment by shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » the Florida Bar and you the people — March 19, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

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