The American Bar Association published a report stating that 90% of Americans cannot afford to pick up the phone and talk to an attorney. This is the reality with regards to the accessibility of legal services in America. Chris Ward, Independent Associate of LegalShield Business Solutions, talks about how LegalShield can provide individuals, families, and business owners unlimited access to a network of law firms across North America. Chris also shares that people can access LegalShield for a low monthly fee as opposed to high hourly costs of legal services elsewhere. Learn more as Chris demystifies business legal services and shares how he got into LegalShield, what their ideal client would be to help, implementing strict customer service, and more.
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Demystifying Business Legal Services with Chris Ward and Co-Host Meranda Vieyra
This is Chris Ward with LegalShield Business Solutions. If you are looking for affordable access to quality legal representation and you don’t have any, this is for you.
Welcome to the show, Chris. I’m joined by my cohost, Meranda Vieyra from Denver Legal Marketing. What we’re going to do is talk to Chris Ward with LegalShield. He works in the Colorado and Wyoming areas. You’ve been with the company for quite some time.
Thank you. It’s an honor to be invited onto the show.
Tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
My name is Chris Ward with LegalShield. In a nutshell, LegalShield gives individuals, families and business owners unlimited access to a network of law firms all across North America. As opposed to worrying about high hourly cost, people have unlimited access for a low flat month-to-month fee. Because of that, we have over 1.7 million households over 100,000 businesses across North America protected now.
Backing up, how in the world did you get into LegalShield?
It was a chance encounter. My background was the US Army. I served proudly for eleven years. The true Hollywood story is that in my last year, I was applying for jobs here, there and everywhere. I lived in Monterey, California and I was forced into entrepreneurship. The only job I got called back on was they wanted me to check IDs at the local British pub for $11 an hour. I didn’t think that my resume was only worth $11 an hour. I decided to follow a childhood dream of mine, which was video production. I’m not doing big projects, but I recognize the fact that this was the birth of YouTube and that entertainment was going to change from half-hour shows loaded with commercials to brief fifteen to twenty-minute videos without commercials. That’s what I focused on.
Almost immediately, we resurrected a jazz record label. I saw an opportunity. There was an incredible catalog of albums that nobody had access to. I was always a fan of jazz. I played trumpet growing up through middle school and high school. I started the company. I collaborated with an architect that built a sound studio. He had no knowledge of sound engineering himself, but he was passionate about his area. We collaborated together and we hired an attorney. He charged us a $10,000 retainer. However, I was very naïve having never used an attorney before outside of the office to get my will done. I thought that $10,000 would last us years until I got our first invoice. As I got the invoice for a little over $1,500, I said, “This is in case of an emergency break glass.” I put the attorney on the wall and just started doing what a lot of business owners do. I started Google searching legal questions, downloading legal forms, writing contracts myself and praying to God that they never ended up on a judge’s desk. I’m absolved of any guilt, but now I’ve come to terms with that.
A salesman came into my office one day and talked to me and my partner. He said, “If I could show you a way to protect and grow your business, would you give me fifteen minutes of your time?” I was both interested in protecting and growing my business so we sat down and we looked at the LegalShield business solutions plan. I’m very analytical soe tried it out for a couple of months to see if it was worth it. I was sold on the fact that it wasn’t a contractual obligation if it didn’t work because I had never heard of it before. We tried it out and saved our company thousands of dollars in the very first couple of months. When I lost my company a few years later, I became one of their associates and started marketing into the other business owners because I saw the need for legal services all across the business community.
When you’re talking to a typical business owner, what’s the typical question that tips the scale for them to use your services? What do you typically hear?
It’s the price point. That’s always been the greatest challenge. It’s the number one reason people aren’t using attorneys. They’ve done surveys after surveys and they’ve determined that the majority of Americans would seek legal counsel if it were more affordable. Since the advent of social media, what you see is a lot of people will Google search legal questions. Back in the day when the chat rooms were popular, there used to be legal chat rooms. Now, with social media, I see it on Facebook and LinkedIn all the time, people are posting legal questions that pertain to their particular business and their particular state and getting answers from God knows who.
I think the need is tremendous and that’s part of what I see is my job is educating individuals, families and business owners on why it’s necessary to have access to attorneys. We see that the majority of Americans rely on healthcare benefits. We recognize the fact that people have to have access to affordable healthcare. It’s the top discussion on every political platform under the sun. You’re three times more likely to end up in court than you’re ever going to end up in a hospital and nobody is discussing the inaccessibility to the justice system.
When we’re looking at across the business community, how would you describe your ideal client?
The ideal clients are those that are still trying to navigate the legal waters. They’re either getting started in business or they’re entering into a new industry where they may not be familiar with all of the pitfalls of that particular industry. It’s good to be able to have access to business consultation and legal consultation to ask questions to be able to navigate those. It’s one of the things that I mistakenly did and it came back to bite me years later. In complete transparency, we had the jazz record label that I had resurrected. If you get a chance to resurrect a record label, I would recommend not doing that. I’m not trying to get business advice, but it was a bad move. I’ve seen friends that have done the same with other labels.
What had happened was that the previous owner of the record label had taken out a $2 million loan leveraging the company. That business owner took off. He took all the money and vanished fifteen years prior to me coming into the picture. Whenever we started to become popular, I tell people we were in the newspapers, the magazines and television, but it was all Monterey County. It wasn’t a Rolling Stone or anything like that. As we started to become popular, all of a sudden, we got a letter from a law firm one day saying, “We’re suing you for $2 million.” We lost everything in the course of about 72 hours. We got a cease and desist on any further marketing or selling of any of our albums or anything. We had to hand everything over. We tried to work out a deal with the bank and they weren’t having it. Those were questions that I didn’t think to ask going into it that came back and bit us later.
You have an interesting background from your military career. Maybe it would be interesting to talk a little bit about what you did in the military and how that transfers over into what you’re doing now.
I had mentioned my eleven years of military service. The first eight years, I worked in Reconnaissance. I was a cavalry scout and that brought me to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997, a year and a half after the war was over. I missed the war but I was there for all the turmoil. The job of Reconnaissance was not fully necessary so we were working in more of a military police fashion. I had been returned under a different unit in 2002, which was when I started learning the language. I figured that if the army wanted me in Bosnia, I better start learning how to speak the local language. In 2003, I went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and learned the language. Out of completely sign on the scene, I was supposed to be sent down in Southern Yugoslavia, in Pristina. I went down there to be an interpreter where I got derailed in Germany and then I fell under new orders to work in a human intelligence collection asset out of Sarajevo called the Allied Military Intelligence Battalion. It’s now defused. I can talk about it freely.
I worked as a spy for NATO for a year. I was one of the only human intelligence collection assets that they had in South of Sarajevo. Everybody was still operating in the North and I was down in Mostar, down in Dubrovnik and Croatia and traveled all over the south. My human intelligence training and experience translated well into the business community. I was able to network effectively and create relationships. I was never an interrogator. I went to Fort Huachuca for interrogation. I did four months of interrogation school, but it was all open collection.
We have a common background. I was intel down there as well. I went to Huachuca and all that good stuff.
Chris, as you know, I’ve been in law for twenty years. This is a unique legal product. LegalShield truly is different. You said you serve 100,000 businesses nationwide. In Colorado, how does LegalShield service businesses different than other business attorneys or business law firms?
The one thing that we found with a business that I had discovered was the fact that there’s not one particular area of law that a business owner needs to talk to. If they have a real estate related question, they may need to talk to somebody who specializes in real estate or a tax attorney because attorneys have specialized. There are attorneys that advertise themselves as small business attorneys, but there are still areas of law that may fall outside of their wheelhouse. One of the benefits of being a LegalShield member is having access to a provider law firm where they can get questions on any area of law.
The price point is the number one reason people aren't using attorneys.
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We also have a network of attorneys outside of that so that everybody is able to have access. We have very strict customer service guidelines whereas if I call in within four business hours, I can get an answer to my legal question. If I need documents reviewed, I can get those done within three business days. If I need a collection letter written on my behalf, that is sent out in less than three days. That’s how we’re able to do that for business owners where a lot of independent attorneys serving their clients may not be able to provide that strict customer service.
The big flashing word to me here is accountability. That is something that LegalShield might offer that a standard law firm can’t. LegalShield is a concept. Other businesses have tried to do prepaid legal services, flat fee and unlimited. Why did this work? Why is this different?
The market for legal service plans is getting busier. We saw Robert Shapiro from LegalZoom stepped away from LegalZoom and started RightCounsel. He’s taken the concept. As a matter of fact, Robert Shapiro took the idea from our Founder, Mr. Harland Stonecipher to create LegalZoom. Now, he’s going off to create RightCounsel where I think is a great idea. It’s a complete subscription-based program for business owners. Whereas in the attorneys, as opposed to them being in a specific firm, they’re all the attorneys that work from home or independent practitioners. He’s trying to generate a large network of attorneys nationwide. The challenge is he’s 40 years behind us and doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to compete. There’s going to be more and more competition coming to this space as it becomes a more proven concept.
Although LegalShield was the pioneer of the legal service plan industry in the United States, our founder had taken the idea from a company called ARAG that had been around in Europe for about 80 to 90 years, who had primarily created a plan to help support automobile drivers. As a matter of fact, there are parts of Germany where you can’t get a license unless you also have a legal plan as well. It’s legal insurance. He took that concept and brought it here and founded our company in 1972. Since it’s expanded, we are the most robust legal plan that’s available on the market. Not wholly the cheapest, but we’re definitely the best.
In 2019, I see a rise in subscription-based services. The Netflix and the Blue Aprons for food delivery and that type of stuff. Are there any comparisons you can draw for a business owner to LegalShield like that? Does this operate like an insurance plan? Or does it operate more like a Netflix where it’s all available 24/7 no matter what I need and when I need it? Can you shed a little bit of light on how this subscription works?
There’s one thing that we’ve recognized. The way consumers are accessing products and services has been turned upside down. You can look at what companies like Amazon have done to the brick and mortar stores. Infinitely every year, 90% of holiday sales are done through Amazon and no longer through all the retail store, so they’re closing doors left and right. With Netflix, the creators of Netflix brought the concept of the subscription-based to Blockbuster and Blockbuster turned it down. There’s this cognitive dissonance surrounding the concept of how legal services are delivered. With the subscription base, the challenge with attorneys that have tried to adopt this themselves, and I’ve spoken with a lot of attorneys that have said, “I’m going to create a monthly fee that people can access.” They don’t have the bandwidth to be able to provide the services on a subscription basis.
You realize that all of your subscribers are not going to use you all in the same day. The challenge is if you’re only the one attorney, you’re challenged there where with LegalShield members, we have access to a network of over 7,000 attorneys nationwide. Unlike insurance where if I’m an insurance provider, let’s say this wasn’t legal insurance, you may get a list of names of attorneys that are a part of this plan. With LegalShield, every member gets one dedicated number, so they don’t have to worry about finding the attorney. They call their provider firm in their particular state of the province. The law firm is responsible for finding the proper attorney to address their legal situation.
Even if I go on LegalZoom right now and I say, “I want to talk to an attorney in Colorado.” I can go to their website, click on “I want to talk to an attorney,” and choose Colorado. I’ve only got six attorneys that are on their website that I can speak with each specializing in a different area. Let’s say that the attorney that I click on is busy and can’t deal with my issue. There is nothing as a LegalZoom member that says, “I’m going to get any certain amount of legal support within a certain particular time frame.” We have very strict customer service guidelines. We’ve been ironing this out for 46 years. It’s not perfect whatsoever. There are things that we could even improve upon our plan, but for what’s available on the market, there’s no comparison.
I like the access idea of a component of what you’re sharing here. As a business owner, part of demystifying business legal services, in general, is not all business layers are the same. Not all handle employment, not all handle contracts. Can you describe a little bit more about once I’m a member of LegalShield, I have a number that I can call? Is there an app? It’s because I’m not familiar with this at all. As a typical small business owner in Colorado, how would I access this?
A lot of the successful businesses of the 21st have to have an app attached to it. I would even love to see independent attorneys have an app where people can access them to schedule appointments or schedule a call. With business owners, the major function of an attorney is just the consultation alone. I have a question that I need an answer too. If I’m calling an attorney for a question that I have that needs to be answered now and I don’t get a call back until the middle of next week, that boat may have a sailed by then. The access is an important part. LegalShield members can download the app. If you go into your Google Play or App Store, you can download the LegalShield app.
There are two functions in the app that are free. We have what we call Erin, the legal assistant. It’s the most popular legal questions that you can ask and it will give you boilerplate answers to these traditional legal questions, which at the end of it, it’s going to say, “You need LegalShield.” They also have a legal form. All your popular legal forms, whether you’re selling a car. If you’re borrowing money or loaning somebody money, if you’re having somebody watch your children, they have boilerplate contractual agreements that you can fill out through your mobile device and have other people sign in real time while you’re standing in front of them. Those are two functions. The rest of the premium features you have to have enrolled to become a member for. I do have an audience that doesn’t use that so I text them the phone numbers and they can save it in their phone and I still do it myself.
You can call your law firm. The plan is available immediately upon enrollment. Most people when they sign up, they have an ongoing legal situation right now or they needed questions answered. As a member enrolls, within ten to fifteen minutes they can contact their law firm. An intake person will ask them for a brief description of their situation. They’ll relay that to them and then they go out to the law firm to find out who in this office is best suited to address that. We also have our referral attorneys that are still inside of the network of LegalShield. If it’s very specific like self-storage law, we may not have somebody that specialized in self-storage law in the firm, but we have definitely somebody inside our network that can answer those questions. They’d get a call back within four business hours with an attorney that will ask for more expansion on their legal concern. If they need to do research, that’s included in the membership as well.
What if you have a multiple business owner? How does that function within the LegalShield framework?
Each membership is based on the tax ID number. If I own multiple businesses that fall under different tax ID numbers or outside of the state, then they would have to have a different play on each.
It's good to be able to have access to business and legal consultation just to ask questions to be able to navigate those.
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Looking over time, we joked that there are two types of business owners. Those that have been sued and those that are going to be sued. The Institute for Legal Reform from 2013 said that over 40% of small business owners are either faced with a lawsuit or threatened with one. For those guys, how does that fit in with LegalShield?
We have different tiers of business plans. Whether an individual is self-employed or whether they have 10 to 50 employees or up to 100 employees, we have different amounts of legal coverage based on the size and the legal need of the company in particular. With myself, I fall into the self-employed individual. I have no employees. I get 60 hours of civil trial defense every single year. Now, I’ve generated 300 hours of trial defense in the event of a civil suit. Our business plans have different tiers of that as well. On the civil suit side of it, we’re a little shorthanded on the fact that our pretrial hours are what I consider inadequate.
However, on the trial of our defense, you can’t beat it. I’ve never heard of a civil trial lasting over 300 hours in history so I think I’m covered on the trial hours. We have a trial defense supplement. I tell business owners that are susceptible. Even contractors or people that have gotten sued or architects that get sued right after the fact, we have a trial defense supplement that boosts their pretrial hours for an additional $9.95 add on to their legal plan. I’ve used that a lot in my pitch. It’s like an athlete is one injury away from an end of a career, a business owner is one lawsuit away from having to close their doors forever. I’ve seen it time and time again.
You have a personal insight.
Our $2 million lawsuit knocked us out of the game. There was no way we could compete. The bank wasn’t going to work with us so we had to look at other things.
Discrimination in the workforce and harassment and other issues, how does LegalShield address those particular concerns?
The business plan in and of itself only protects the business. We have our individual plans to protect the individuals as a business owner. We are one of the largest voluntary employee benefits. As a matter of fact, 63% of Colorado members receive their membership through their employer. In the event that they’re in the workplace and they’re dealing with a situation like that, we had a situation where a woman who had gone to a conference and one of her executive body drugged and raped her. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, any event of a legal emergency, our members have access to be able to call their firm, which she did. She called our provider from Colorado after hours and was able to explain the situation and they walked her all the way through going to the hospital for the rape kit and everything. They went above and beyond the call of duty at no additional charge other than what she’s paying for her monthly plan.
For the people that are putting LegalShield under the microscope, what area of your business model do you think receives the most scrutiny, review or commentary?
Primarily, where it gives the most scrutiny is when people have contacted an attorney and the attorney is like, “I’m sorry, we can’t help you,” or they don’t get the results. Oftentimes, what people think should be fair is not necessarily legal. People are taken advantage of and they feel that some crime has been committed but the reality is they were legally taken advantage of. The greatest scrutiny we have are people that have called the firm and an attorney said, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you.” They say, “This doesn’t work then.” It’s like, “You still got legal counsel. You still had an attorney tell you it’s not going to work.” I called in, I got a ticket. I’ll never forget I was in Carmel, California. It was a Sunday morning and I was running into the drug store there in Carmel to talk to my friend for five minutes.
I had parked at the bank across the street. Of course, the closest parking spot was a handicap parking. I come back out to a $275 parking ticket. I called the firm and I said, “I’ve got this ticket over on Sunday morning. What can I do about this?” They said, “Nothing. You have to pay for it. Was the sign clear?” I said, “The sign was right in front of my car, but I was only in there for a minute and it was Sunday morning. The bank was closed.” They said, “It doesn’t matter when the working hours are. If it’s a handicap parking spot, it’s a handicap parking spot. Pay it.” I could’ve stomped around and got mad, but it was at least that I had access to a traffic attorney to tell me what my rights were in that situation. The reality is I had to pay for the ticket.
As you’re working out in the business community and I don’t know how much of the business community is even aware. When you’re going out and trying to get the word out, what do you do to get the word out to the business community that this particular risk management tool is available?
I ask people a couple of questions. I assume that they’re already working with an attorney because it’s common sense for every business owner to have at least some legal counsel that they’re reaching out to or they’re talking to. What I find is that most people, even though they know an attorney, they don’t have an attorney on retainer. It’s like, “I know an attorney, but that’s as far as it goes.” I’ll say, “If I could show you a way to have unlimited access to affordable legal counsel Monday through Friday and it doesn’t break the bank, would you be willing to give me fifteen minutes of your time?” I walk them through the benefits of the plan. What I find is the majority of the people will enroll with our program.
As a matter of fact, the very small business attorney that we retained in California became a member of LegalShield after he inquired as to why I was not using his services anymore. I had stated I’m now a member of LegalShield and he was like, “What is that?” I said, “If you give me twenty minutes to come in and show you, I’d love to it share with you.” Here’s an attorney that charges $400 an hour using LegalShield for his own purpose. I don’t want to say how many or who, but I have several law firms, attorneys in this office that are members of LegalShield. They’re using LegalShield for their own legal purposes because attorneys know that to represent yourself in court, you have an idiot as a client. Attorneys know that it’s only smart to have access to attorneys that specialize outside of their particular area of coverage.
For the Denver business owner that is looking at either selling a business or their business or buying another business, how does that interface with LegalShield?
Oftentimes, what people think should be fair is not necessarily legal.
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It’s excellent for the contract and document review because we have a set number of pages that the business owners can have reviewed for those they exceed, but it’s a discounted rate. All of us, even in business owners that I’ve worked with that have sold their business, read over the documents themselves. This is not just selling and buying businesses, but across the board where the majority of people read their own legal documents and then they see that the bold print is exactly what they had agreed upon. As a quote from the good book, “The bold print giveth and the fine print taketh away.” It’s only powerful for business owners in that. I have brokers that are in a small business that help facilitate the sale and purchase of businesses. I have individuals that I worked with that specialize in the franchise models. When somebody wants to buy a franchise, work with those individuals but you need to have your own independent legal counsel because all those contracts were drafted by an attorney, so it would only make sense that you would have an attorney that’s on your side to review it.
If a business owner is like, “I need to take and protect my intellectual property and my business. I want to look at all my documents, my leases and so on and so forth in the business.” Let’s say I have a 50-person firm. How does that work within the LegalShield framework?
It’s the same. They will still review your documentation. A lot of people mistake the same as filing for their articles of incorporation. That’s not a legal fee. That’s something that you’re going to pay through the state. It’s the same way if I file a patent, a trademark or intellectual property that goes through the Office of Patents and Trademarks. That’s a separate fee. That’s not covered under our plan, but making sure that you fill out the document properly before you submit it to the office to me is invaluable. Some people are incomplete in the information that they send over there to protect their intellectual property. When it gets kicked back, they get upset. If you would have had this reviewed first before submitting it, then it would have saved you a lot of time and money.
What if we’re sitting here and I’m a Colorado Airbnb owner. I’ve got my property and I’m going through one of the services. How does LegalShield work with an Airbnb owner?
Any time there’s an income producing, whether you’re an Uber driver, Airbnb, the rover where you’re walking people’s dogs. If it’s an income producing job or business that you have, you have to have what we call a home business supplement attachment to your legal plan. In Airbnb, a lot of people don’t realize the legal implications of being a business owner in that regard. I had just dealt with an Airbnb host. While sitting around in the house and minding her own business, the ambulance and fire and police showed up at her house. They told her that they had received a 911 emergency call from this address and she said, “No, it wasn’t her,” but it was the people staying in the Airbnb. What had happened was these two young girls from college in Illinois were out visiting Colorado and partaking in the cannabis without understanding what the implications of eating too much THC gummies do. They thought they were going to die so they called 911.
No legal recourse was hacked, but how many things could have gone wrong? What if somebody had overdosed in the house? If somebody was using an illegal controlled substance in an Airbnb, if somebody was injured that was staying in an Airbnb, whether they trip and fall. I’ve been at some Airbnbs around the world where they’re very poorly lit or I’ve had to walk across to the cobblestone sidewalk and I could trip and twist my ankle. There are so many different risks at hand and people think because they’re not making a lot of money that there’s not a legal risk and there absolutely is. It could end you the same way as we’ve seen with the rideshare drivers. There are a lot of legal implications. When you put somebody else in your vehicle with you, you’re responsible for what happens to that person. It’s good to have representation and be able to call and ask, “What could happen? What kind of insurance do I need to protect me in the event if something goes wrong?”
For the business owner that is going, “I’m in.” How do they find you? What do they do for a next step to at least explore the opportunity?
First is to contact me and ask to share with me what their legal needs are first because we have different plans that are available for different size businesses and where they’re at in their business development. Some people have an idea and they haven’t even taken a step towards opening a business. Individuals can call me. I’m all across North America. They can call me at 1 (720) 550-2320. I’m open seven days a week so they can contact me any day of the week. They can find me on Google. Google search Chris Ward LegalShield Independent Associate and they can find me there. I’m also on Facebook at ChrisWardLegalShieldIndependentAssociate. I’m on Instagram, @WardOfTheWorld. That’s my Instagram handle.
Ward of the World was an idea that I had, not necessarily that I’m the protector of the world, Ward being the old English word for the guardian. What I love to do is reach out to other people that step up as guardians because I’m a civil rights activist in the same. I’m heavily involved in the community and politics. I love people that are stepping outside of the comfort zone to help people. That’s one of the things that LegalShield and I aligned with because I truly believe that if everybody in America had access to attorneys, it would change the landscape of our country. When every man, woman and child could pick up the phone and talk to an attorney to avoid being taken advantage of. When you see all the situations with police overstepping their boundaries. If I’m talking to a police officer and I can 24 hours a day, seven days a week get an attorney on the phone to make sure that my legal rights are not being affected adversely. That’s going to change the landscape of the country and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
That’s exactly how I view what you’re describing. It’s almost a disruption of the system and how legal services were reserved for people with means. They were reserved for people that may not traditionally have access to professionals at that level. I want to go into a little bit more of the case studies because what you’re saying is fascinating. I can identify with a lot. We have an Airbnb and HomeAway account that we run and so I like the idea of having LegalShield for your Colorado side gig, whether that is Airbnb or Lyft driving and that type of thing. Do you have another success story that you could share relating to the Colorado small business owners where LegalShield has helped or made a difference?
A lot of businesses that have outstanding accounts receivable where they’ve gone out to hire a collection agency. The challenge with a lot of people is that they recognize a collection agency and they’ll ignore it. Whereas when they get a letter from a reputable law firm and they realize that they’re going to be taken to court, they’ll come to make those payments. One of our clients in Golden had exceeded almost a year and a half of $15,000 accounts receivable. He had hired a collection agency to work on his behalf. When we presented him with the opportunity to use a law firm, he thought, “For the price, what’s it going to hurt?” For his legal plan, it was $89. It’s a month to month plan so he had no commitment to it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? When the law firm wrote a letter, it was within three days. They wrote a certified letter to the other company. As soon as they had received a letter from the law firm, they paid that $15,000 debt that they hadn’t been able to collect on over a year and a half. The business owner said, “I will never be without LegalShield again.”
I shared the one with the individual that had a problem with her executive body at her company. A lot of it is the nickel and dime legal situations that are countless where people wouldn’t think to hire an attorney for something like, “I want to hire an independent contractor for my business, whereas an agreement that I could get.” They don’t want to hire an attorney to draft one because maybe they haven’t even started in their business yet. I have a lot of people that our law firm will provide a boilerplate. They fill in the blanks. The law firm will review it to make sure that it’s applicable to the State of Colorado before they use that to bring on independent contractors.
Let’s say I’m getting my home remodeled. I’ve contracted with somebody to come do some work. How would you see that circumstance and as the homeowner, how would that work with LegalShield?
It’s the same way. That’s in the top five reasons why people call LegalShield because they hired a roofer or somebody to do the gutters or somebody to do the flooring or the decks and they did a shoddy job or they didn’t complete the job or whatever. They don’t know what to do. They’re stuck with half their gutters hanging off the side of the rooftop or the roof still leaking after they hired somebody to fix it. A letter from the law firm typically will get them back up on the roof and fixing the job fairly quickly. We’ve seen it on the vendor side too where we’ve had contractors that were brought in to put in a floor and all of a sudden the business owner says, “I don’t like the way you did the floor. I’m not paying you.” They completed the job specification. You still owe them the money.
As the code from the good book, the bold print giveth and the fine print taketh away.
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Our law firm for small businesses particularly in the Hispanic community where they’re massively taken advantage of as far as the independent contractors from picking up trash, to doing decks and floors, to roofing, siding and so on and so forth. A lot of times they don’t get paid for their work. I’ve had several handfuls of those people come in because those one jobs feed their families. They’re missing meals. They’re not able to pay their rent because the person or persons that they’d been working for weeks on decided at the last minute they weren’t going to pay them. Where is their legal recourse if they don’t have the money to hire an attorney because they can’t even afford food? We step in.
I like the aspect of LegalShield even in the playing field between businesses, especially when the small businesses are going up against a larger one with a bigger budget for legal services. This makes it a little bit fairer. I wasn’t expecting to talk about this, but you brought up the fact that LegalShield can be an added benefit for employees as an ancillary or voluntary benefit.
Can you share a little bit more about how that works? Does the employer pay for LegalShield for their employees?
They can but traditionally, they don’t. We’re largely an ancillary benefit. A lot of business owners are trying to figure out how to bulk up their benefits package. Our members do get a slightly discounted rate coming in as the group benefit. The employers can pay for it, but traditionally they don’t. I would say 99% of them leave it to the employees to pay for themselves, so it’s taken out as a payroll deduction or a bank draft. There’s one amendment, it’s voluntary but I put it in there anyway, the employees cannot use it against their employer. You have disgruntled employees that will leave and then make false allegations. As soon as they call the firm and they say, “I want to lodge a complaint.” Once they bring up the fact that they’re using this against their employer, it’s null and void so they won’t help them.
It doesn’t mean that they can’t go off and hire their own attorney but in most cases, they won’t. The State of Colorado offers LegalShield as a benefit to its employees. We have two municipalities in the Denver metro area that offer our services. I’m working on the other mayors’ offices as well. It’s an incredible benefit. We expand our identity theft services as well because of the heightening of identity theft cases across North America. Our ID shield benefit has been very sought after and it’s in a lot of times paid for by the employer in particular when there’s been a data breach and the company has lost either their employees or their client’s nonpublic information. They’ve made it available to their employees for a year or two before they give it back to the employees to voluntarily maintain if they want to. That is one of the most serious legal situations facing North Americans now and we still write it off as bank fraud.
For the small business owner that has a small hotel or a storage facility and get hacked and personal information gets out. What does LegalShield do in that circumstance?
We have a partnership with a company called Kroll. You may be familiar with them. They’re one of the largest forensic accounting and risk management companies on the planet. They’re over many years old themselves. They give us access to licensed investigators. In the event of a data breach, the members get assigned to a licensed investigator that will step in and restore their identity either on the member’s behalf under a limited power of attorney or advise the member on how they can restore it themselves. Why anybody wouldn’t want to restore their own identity is beyond me. They are the crème de la crème in what they do. My brother’s famous story is that he was a Purple Heart recipient from Iraq. He was in the Marine Corps in the Fallujah invasion and injured several times. Purple Heart awarded him 100% of his education was covered.
After a few years, he got out and after the second semester in college, he was notified that the Veterans Affairs Office had suspended his educational benefits. They were no longer going to pay for it. We contacted the VA and the VA said, “In our database, you’re a felon so we’ve suspended all of your benefits.” My brother was arrested on drug charges in Michigan and sent to prison, but it was never my brother. It was somebody else who had used my brother’s driver’s license information who was picked up. Now, the database says my brother is a felon and typically, nobody would even know where to start. My brother is in California at the time. This was a situation in Michigan. Everybody knows that most police departments, the most action they’ll do is file a police report. They won’t take any actual action on doing it. My brother contacted Kroll through his ID shield plan. They assigned him a licensed investigator who went out and expunged his record through the Veterans Affairs Office, expunged his record through the prison system and the VA sent his school a check. They got all that done in four days.
What are the top three to five risks that you see in the Colorado business community that LegalShield ends up handling most of the time?
If it’s a startup business, a lot of it is the business consultation and the legal questions that people have. People don’t know, “Do I start an LLC? What’s the difference between starting an S corp and a C corp?” I want to bring on my best friend or my brother has a business partner, which I always advise against. These are all questions that should be answered by an attorney or a business consultant who specialize in that area. A lot of the times, they start making those decisions and filling out the paperwork based on emotion, not under an advisory. That’s the first one.
Before they start going into rental agreements, before they either buy or rent a property, they get into these outrageous lease agreements with commercial building owners that if they had reviewed by an attorney, they would have said, “You cannot agree to that.” There are lines in this contract that are not even longer applicable to the State of Colorado. A lot of businesses, especially landlords, are using outdated contracts. Some of the things that they’re putting in the contracts are no longer even legally able to be in those contracts. They’ve been using the same boilerplate for 25 to 30 years so why change it?
That’s another thing that they need to do. If you’re an engineer and you have a technology that you want to protect, there’s a lot of gray area on intellectual property. If you don’t have clarification on how to fill that out properly, there are people that are waiting for you to submit a patent so they can turn around and sue you. Sadly, that’s the case. In particular, it’s hiring and firing of employees. That’s one of the other larger questions. Once somebody got to the size of their business where they’re ready to bring on employees, they’ll say, “How do I write an employee manual? What belongs in there? What kind of insurance do I need? What kind of requirements are there for the employee being at the workplace and so on and so forth?” It changes business to business on what those are. Those are all primary things that I think business owners should have advice on and not get it from Facebook.
The part that maybe many business owners don’t know is if they get ready to sell their business the potential purchaser is going to want to look at documents and it affects the valuation. You’ll have a gap if your documents aren’t squared away. At a minimum, it would make some sense to do that. A thought popped into my mind. For the individual, does it cover divorce?
When you put somebody else in your vehicle with you, you're responsible for what happens to that person.
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No, we can’t cover everybody for everything. When I talk about the price point, there are things that I call, the did it to myself area. These are situations like divorce, bankruptcy, loan modification, foreclosure, DUI and a bank robbery. You can still get legal advice, but in order to get legal assistance in those matters, you would still have to retain the attorney’s services. They take 25% off of their standard hourly rate, but there still needs to be a retainer there. There’s one thing that we do in the event of an uncontested. It has to be 100% uncontested divorce. We have a 90-day waiting period where an individual can get an uncontested divorce 100% covered under a plan.
I was on the intel side and I didn’t do interrogation but I feel like we just interrogated you.
Our company is many years old and the majority of the public, I can go at nine out of ten people have never heard of LegalShield and it’s because of our marketing strategy because we don’t advertise. Companies like LegalZoom have an excellent marketing team, but they have a substandard product, where we have an excellent product but substandard marketing. It’s all word of mouth and referral basis because we want happy members referring us to other individuals that could benefit from our services. I’ve field these questions quite often. I can’t put a 30-second LegalShield commercial because nobody will get it. People will be like, “I don’t need an attorney. There’s no reason for me to hire an attorney. I’ve never hired an attorney.” They don’t think of all the situations where they should have hired an attorney, but they didn’t because the solution costs more than the problem itself.
That’s the point in it.
With regard to the future of LegalShield, you hinted that you have a language component to this in Spanish. Can you share a little bit more about what’s the next frontier for LegalShield and for you?
We’re moving to London. We partnered with Slater and Gordon. They’re one of the top-ranked law firms in the United Kingdom and they’d been around since 1935. LegalShield is now offering legal defense as the name of the company. It’s a subsidiary over in the United Kingdom. For me, London has always been a commercial stepping block to every other country in the world. Once you get through London, you get to the rest of the world. We have our eyes set on locations in Europe and Asia. I’m a frequent traveler of the world anyway. The military sparked a travel addiction that I have to fulfill every six months. One of the things that I saw is when the industry starts to bend in your favor.
In 2016, the American Bar Association did a commission to find out about the accessibility of legal services. They wrote a report called The Future of Legal Services. In this report, they found what we already know. 90% of Americans simply cannot afford to pick up the phone and talk to an attorney. What they’re extending is that attorney started breaking away from what they’ve learned in law school and adopting innovative technologies that are emerging in the realms of legal research, which we know computers like Watson are now stepping up to provide a lot of the legal research there. Also, they’re asking that attorneys start marketing prepaid legal plans in the marketplace to fill in that gap of the people that need legal services and those that can afford it because that is a massive marketplace. Attorneys know that they’re only serving 10% to 20% of the market as they are.
- If we can fill in the gap there, it will change the world. We’re not just going to do that in North America. We’re only at 2% market penetration in the United States. We have 38,000 members. It means 38,000 households in the State of Colorado with a population of eight million. Let’s bring it down to 1.9 million households in Colorado. I could stay in Colorado and never run out of work. Especially in countries like Bosnia where there is no legal recourse. I’m in India every six months and there’s no legal recourse. The legal system there is so broken and so delayed that there’s no swift justice. If I were to need to sue somebody, they would die of old age before I’ll ever see that day in court. The ability for me to take a service like this that gives people immediate access to quality legal representation is a moral obligation.The Colorado business owners that are looking to expand into the UK and beyond maybe a new Spanish-speaking market is a neat option when it comes to business legal services.
There are one million Hispanics in the State of Colorado just by itself. A largely unserved population of Colorado that doesn’t have readily access to them to legal services.
The bilingual aspect of legal services is a big hurdle.
We’re working on everything. They’ve asked me in California to start doing it in Russian because we have a lot of Russian members that have challenges. Unfortunately, if our members don’t speak English or Spanish, we can’t serve them. That’s a gap that I want to fill as well.
The part that’s interesting for me is you don’t know what you don’t know. For so much of this, we go, “I had no idea.” I think of, “How did the word get out?” This is certainly a small step to try to serve the business community. I appreciate you taking the time. Meranda, thank you for co-hosting.
Thank you both. I appreciate you.
For you out there, whether you’re a business owner or an individual, the only mistake you can make is by not reaching out to Chris, so ask away. Thanks, Chris.
About Chris Ward
Prior to LegalShield, I was in the US Army for 11 years. I knew I was going to get out, however, during that last year in the military, my job searches came up fruitless. I started looking at other options and decided to follow a childhood dream of mine to start a video production company. I knew nothing about starting a business and even less about video production, but I had a strong desire to be successful. One of our projects was to resurrect a defunct record label. My partners and I wanted to create a Jazz musical showcase series that would be broadcast live online, of which the songs would be made available for immediate download.
Eight months into my business, a gentleman came into our office and asked to share how to protect and grow our business, two key ideas we were definitely interested in. My partners and I already had retained an attorney, but at $400 an hour, we found ourselves downloading legal documents and re-writing them to fit our needs. In the first month as members of LegalShield, our company saved a couple thousand dollars. I realized that every business owner needed LegalShield. Now, it is my mission to protect individuals, families, and businesses with unlimited access to top-notch attorneys in their particular state, on any issue, big or small, for one low, flat-monthly fee.
We are currently expanding our organization across the nation. You may know individuals with sales or marketing experience who may be interested in hearing about a great opportunity in the rapidly growing Voluntary Benefits Market or our B2B Sales Division. LegalShield offers extensive training, marketing support and incentives for qualified candidates.
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The post Demystifying Business Legal Services with Chris Ward and Co-Host Meranda Vieyra appeared first on My podcast website.