Everyone might be equal under the law, but not everyone can get equal access to the best legal services.
That’s why, even if you’re innocent, having lots of money still is one of the best legal defenses.
If a West Michigan business owner or individual doesn’t have plenty of easy capital ready for legal battles, they can turn to Bernard Fogg. Fogg is a local independent associate with LegalShield, an Oklahoma-based corporation that offers prepaid legal service products in both the U.S. and Canada.
“If you asked a lot of people today how they are going to get wealthy, the top two answers are, ‘I’m going to win the lotto’ or ‘I’m going to sue somebody,’” he said.
“If you go into a Meijer and slip and fall, and you sue Meijer, they’ve got a legal department on hand to take care of stuff like that. It’s just the average, every-day Joe that can’t afford access to the legal system.”
LegalShield offers plans for legal advice, consultation, representation, family matters and document preparation, as well as assistance in auto and IRS legal services. It also offers services regarding identity theft.
“(LegalShield) gives you access to attorneys, and you don’t have to be worried about being billed by the hour. I work with everybody who needs an attorney, individuals or businesses. We have plans that fit the whole population,” he said.
“There are about 100 of us (representatives) in this Grand Rapids area that I know of. This is a home-based business franchise. We all operate our businesses out of our homes.”
Troy-based law firm Powers Chapman works with LegalShield in Michigan, Fogg said. In Grand Rapids, Fogg works closely with the law firm Miller Johnson.
“We don’t have to deal with local laws and ordinances. All we deal with is access to the legal system, and the attorneys take care of that,” he said. “We don’t change law. We work with existing law, and if you have a problem with the law, we will help you mitigate that. That’s what LegalShield does.”
Fogg started working with LegalShield 11 years ago. Like many of LegalShield’s independent associates, he was first a client, who then got involved with the business.
“My wife and I, when our son was younger, we were discussing the possibility of putting a will in place. …. Price (for doing this) came back at $1,200,” he said.
“One day, I got invited to a luncheon where they were discussing LegalShield. As I was sitting there listening, the guy said that for the cost of the membership, you can put a will in place, and right away that $1,200 popped up in my mind.”
“At the end of the presentation, I asked how much it cost. He said, ‘$17.99 per month. You can write a check for the whole thing.’ I said, ‘That’s just about $200. I can do that. Bring me the paperwork.’”
LegalShield was founded in 1972 originally as the Sportsman’s Motor Club, before it was incorporated in 1976 as Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. The name was changed again to LegalShield in 2011. Harland Stonecipher founded the corporation after he was involved in a car accident, Fogg said. Even though the person who hit Stonecipher was in the wrong and got the ticket, that person had an attorney and thought Stonecipher could be sued to get money.
“Back in 1969, you could buy a Corvette for $3,900. (Stonecipher) spent about $36,000 defending himself. He won, but it devastated him financially. So, at the end of that, he said, ‘Hey, there must be a service around here so in case this happens again, I can protect myself against that,’” Fogg said.
“His whole philosophy was he didn’t want anyone else to be devastated financially like he was.”
Organizations such as LegalShield exist because Americans need to have access to an inexpensive way to legally defend themselves, Fogg said. This is true for business leaders. Anywhere in America is a good place for entrepreneurs, he said, adding when one boils down the issues, both big businesses and small businesses face the problems.
How money impacts the way big and small businesses can solve those problems creates the conflict LegalShield wants to end.
“Big businesses have the same issues little businesses have. … Only difference is, big businesses have the money to take care of it, and small businesses don’t. That’s the big issue,” he said.
“It’s the little people that don’t have teams of lawyers to take care of themselves, and that’s where LegalShield (comes in). It makes legal prices affordable for everyday people.”