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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Law - Low-Cost Paralegal Company Based on H&R Block Model

"Challenges Beset Low-Cost Paralegal Aid" is the headline to this fairly lengthy story today in the Washington Post. Some quotes:

You can't miss the red, white and blue at the We the People office in Glen Burnie -- the flags, the star wallpaper, even a large Liberty Bell rug. "It's nothing you'll find on Madison Avenue," said Deborah Ramsey, owner of the Glen Burnie franchise.

That's precisely the point. The decor is part of the paralegal company's strategy to distinguish itself from high-priced law firms. As its Web site states: "You pay for the forms and documents, not the expensive law school and wood-paneled offices." Wills here cost $99; bankruptcies, $199; uncontested divorces, $349.

The company's do-it-yourself approach to the law attracted 123,000 customers last year to its 123 franchised offices. This year, with nearly 200 offices expected to be up and running, 200,000 customers are expected to pay nearly $50 million to get help with their legal documents. * * *

We the People executives like to compare the franchise to the low-cost, international tax services firm H&R Block Inc. "When H&R Block came out 50 years ago, accountants and CPAs said you can't train someone in six weeks to help do taxes," said Searns. Last year, Block's revenues were $3.8 billion, with 21 million customers from 11 countries. "Every year H&R block gets a number of people come in who shouldn't use them or who get into problems," Searns said. But, he added, no one is trying to shut them down.

We the People is pressing for state and/or federal regulation that would allow its industry to operate without constant challenges, along the lines of rules recently passed in Arizona. "Because we have a new industry with all kinds of concerns, we want to know what the ground rules are," Searns said.

Using H&R Block as a role model, We the People has aggressive expansion plans. The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based franchise with two storefronts in Maryland (the second is in Cockeysville) is looking to team up with a large well-known company to place its services in thousands of outlets in the next few years. Storefront owners, who pay $89,500 for a franchise, get five days of initial training, with periodic refresher courses after that.

Here is a related article from the Texas Lawyer titled "Group Alleges Document Prep Service Provides Legal Advice by Nonlawyers" and dated 9/24/03.

Here is the We the People Forms & Services Centers USA, Inc. main page. The nationwide map of offices shows that there are no franchises operating in Indiana, but there are in all our surrounding states. Here is a list of the products and services available.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 30, 2004 01:29 PM
Posted to General Law Related