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Attorney General issues cease and desist letter to Watertown legal document business

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WATERTOWN — The state attorney general’s office has issued a cease and desist letter to a recently opened business it said is engaged in the unauthorized practice of the law.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has issued a notice of proposed litigation, a cease and desist letter and a subpoena for business records to Legal Docs by Me LLC and the company’s CEO, Derek B. Distenfield, according to a news release from the attorney general’s office.

Mr. Distenfield launched the business, which is located in the Franklin Building, in March to provide what he has called “another key into the courthouse.” The company has apparently opened another location in Syracuse. It plans to open other locations near military bases nationwide, according to the attorney general’s office.

According to its website, the business prepares documents that include wills, divorces, prenuptial agreements, living trusts and incorporations, among others.

However, a disclaimer at the bottom of the site indicates that the business is not a law firm and does not provide attorneys or legal services to its customers.

“Legal Docs by Me cannot and does not provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, available choices, or strategies. When using Legal Docs by Me, you are representing yourself,” the disclaimer reads, in part.

But Mr. Schneiderman asserted in the news release that Legal Docs by Me may be engaged in fraudulent legal practices.

“It is critical that New Yorkers receive strong legal advice from knowledgeable and qualified attorneys,” Mr. Schneiderman said in the release. “My office will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that anyone engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in New York State is stopped before consumer harm ensues.”

His office pointed to a business that Mr. Distenfield allegedly was involved in several years ago called We The People Legal Document Services. Mr. Distenfield’s LinkedIn profile, which the attorney general’s office cites, lists Mr. Distenfield as the senior vice president of sales and marketing for that company from 2002 to 2006.

According to the attorney general’s office, multiple lawsuits across the country found that We The People also engaged in the unauthorized practice of the law and, in some instances, materially prejudiced the interests of its clients and forged client signatures.

Reached through his LinkedIn profile Sunday night, Mr. Distenfield responded with an emailed comment.

“Legal Docs By Me exists because consumers allow us to, they have requested and used our services which we are proud to provide and will continue to do so in accordance with the law,” Mr. Distenfield wrote. “I have seen the document preparation industry attacked by special interest groups hiding behind the unlicensed practice of law satisfied with the status quo and the monopoly of how legal services are offered to the public.”

The attorney general’s office has asked anyone who believes he or she has been a victim of fraudulent legal practices to contact the attorney general’s consumer fraud helpline at 1-800-771-7755.

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