People often call our office and think they are calling “We The People.” A People’s Choice is not, nor has ever been affiliated with We The People or the We The People franchise.
Many We The People stores are now closed or have changed their names, but the story behind the name and what happened to the franchises is quite interesting.
What Happened to the We The People Legal Document Service?
Ira and Linda Distenfield filed personal bankruptcy in 1991, then in the late 1990s and early 2000s, established We the People, a low-cost, non-attorney legal filing business which they took nationwide and ultimately grew to a chain of more than 1,000 stores. The company offered to fill out uncontested legal forms such as divorce paperwork, living trusts and bankruptcy filings, for far less than a lawyer might charge.
Their franchise called We the People experienced continued success until 2005 and after 15 years, the Distenfields had We the People legal document service franchise stores in more than 30 states.
In 2005, the Distenfields agreed to sell the We the People legal document service franchise to a Pennsylvania company called Dollar Financial Group. The original offer was $27 million, reduced to $17 million and then reduced further to $14 million; but the deal ultimately disintegrated. Dollar ended up suing the Distenfields, alleging they had double-sold We the People franchise rights in seven states.
As reported in Pacific Coast Business Times, John Sullivan represented a group of former We the People franchisees who settled for $150,000 with the Distenfields after suing them for fraud.
The Distenfields are now running a new self-help legal service known as Legal Docs by Me in Santa Barbara and are attempting to expand in other areas as they did with their former We The People franchise. The cycle is already starting over again with new lawsuits being filed for the unauthorized practice of law. A settlement was recently reached with Legal Docs By Me Stores in New York which allows the stores to stay open but some customers will receive refunds.
Why are there still We the People stores out there? The trademark name is owned by WTP IP Holdings LLC and provides a directory listing of document preparation services only. WTP IP Holdings is just an online web directory to which any legal document preparation service can pay an annual fee for inclusion in the web directory. The fee also authorizes participants to the use of the name “We The People.” Their web site advertises that they have been a trusted name since 1985. Unfortunately, We the People is “just a name” with nothing behind it. A People’s Choice was asked about paying WTP IP Holdings an annual fee to be included on this We The People USA directory. We respectfully declined.
Contact A People’s Choice For Your Legal Document Needs!
A People’s Choice has been in the legal document preparation field for over 35 years and provides low-cost, non-attorney legal document preparation services throughout California. For more information about our services and how we compare with other services, visit our website or complete an online form explaining your needs. Many of our services can be started right through our website with easy to navigate online interviews.