Contributed by Hillary Saffran
What does a sharecropper’s son who became a teacher then life insurance salesman have to do with making legal services affordable for everyone?
It began in 1969, when Harland Stonecipher was involved in a car accident that was not his fault.
“I had insurance that paid for my totaled car, insurance that took care of my medical bills,” he told the Ada Evening News, “But I was sued by the other party and had no money for legal fees.”
He ended up settling the lawsuit, but his difficulty in scraping together legal fees inspired an idea to fill a little-noticed market niche: Why not offer a plan for people to make small monthly payments, so they could have access to legal advice when they needed it?
After doing the research - there were precedents, particularly in Europe, where such plans go back to the 1930s - Mr. Stonecipher started what he called a “motor service club” to reimburse members for legal expenses.
The club became Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., the first prepaid legal plan in the United States to cater to individuals. It is now named LegalShield and remains among the most prominent companies in the industry. Other plans handle companies, unions and trade associations.
The Group Legal Services Association, an American Bar Association affiliate, estimated in 2011 that 122 million Americans were covered by group legal plans of all kinds, up from 45 million in 2004.
Pre-Paid aimed to attract customers not poor enough to qualify for government-subsidized legal aid and not wealthy enough to retain a lawyer - middle-income, hard-working Americans who had been left out, as Mr. Stonecipher put it.
“In America today, you’re going to get just as much justice as you have the ability to pay for,” he said in a 2010 video.
Today, more than 1.5 million American families representing more than 3.7 million people in 50 states are members of Pre-Paid’s successor company, paying as little as $20 a month, with fees rising if more services are desired.
On its website, the American Bar Association summarized the usefulness of such plans: “With one phone call, your lawyer can draft a will for you, look over a purchase contract on a home, represent your teenager in traffic court, negotiate a “life contract” for nursing home care and even get you a divorce!”
If you would like more information about this pre-paid legal service for individuals, families and businesses, as well as identity theft protection through IDShield, contact Hillary Saffran at www.legalshield.com/hub/hillarysaffran.
There is no price for peace of mind.