Post Self Defense Support: The Buyer's Guide
by Marty Hayes, J.D.
President, Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc.
For over five years both members and non-members have been asking me to compare what the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. (the Network) does for its members versus what is offered by all the other companies and products now being offered to help deal with the legal aftermath of a self-defense incident. At our readers’ urging, I have decided to take on this task. Instead of a chart like the other companies use–a chart designed to highlight attributes of their programs and down play the competitors’–I will give a detailed narrative and explanation of all the different types of programs of which I am currently aware. But before I get into the nuts and bolts of all these programs, a little history lesson is in order.
Before the Network was born, the National Rifle Association promoted an NRA-endorsed insurance program offered by Lockton Risk. This program was expensive. If I am remembering correctly it cost about $400 a year. The insurance did nothing to help a person avoid being convicted of a crime, but instead offered to reimburse a policy holder for expenses (up to $50,000, I believe) associated with fighting a criminal charge after an act of self defense. I believe it also had up to $250,000 civil claim insurance coverage, if my memory is right. Well, I wasn’t interested in that program because any defense in a murder trial where the defendant is claiming self defense could vastly exceed the $50,000 limit, and even so, I had to first pay attorneys large sums of money to which I did not have access.
Concurrently, I was aware of Texas Law Shield, a pre-paid legal services firm. They were only active in Texas at the time, so that didn’t help me in Washington State. Besides, I wasn’t interested in pre-paid legal services, because if my freedom was at stake, I wanted to be able to choose my own defense attorney, and not rely upon an attorney of unknown knowledge and skill.
Even before I began exploring these plans, I’d decided to go to law school to at least be able to assist in fighting an unmeritorious prosecution after a self-defense shooting for my students in my other business, The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc.
While going through the four years of law school, my mind kept searching for solutions to what Jeff Cooper called “problem two,” the legal aftermath. I began to envision a network comprised of like-minded gun owners, joining together to form their own legal services co-operative, so that if one of the group was targeted by the criminal justice system, all the members could pitch in to mount a competent defense. After discussing the concept with several of my colleagues and friends in the firearms training industry, many of them now on our advisory board, we started the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network. This was in January of 2008 and since then, the Network has grown to over 11,000 members nationwide, a feat that still amazes and humbles me.
So, there you have the quick history lesson about why we started the Network. Since our introduction in 2008, a number of competing businesses have sprung up, making varied promises to gun owners. These can be categorized into four types:
2) Insurance backed
3) Pre-paid legal services
4) The Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc., a membership organization.
Let’s make a detailed exploration of each type of plan.
Insurance works on the premise that a specified incident (called a “condition subsequent” in legal lingo) must occur before insurance will pay off. The insured must not have intentional control over that occurrence. This means that someone else must do something or an act of God must occur, and that the act is specified in the insurance policy. In a self-defense insurance policy, the condition subsequent is the acquittal or dismissal of criminal charges. In other words, if the jury found you not guilty by reason of an act of self defense, then your legal fees are reimbursed up to the limits of the policy. Most of the insurance policies reimburse between $50,000 and $100,000 for criminal defense legal fees, based on a sliding scale of premium dues. (To further your understanding, you should read the Lockton Risk Insurance Policy at http://www.locktonrisk.com/nrains/forms/self-defense-firearms-liability-insurance-policy-form.pdf)
The insurance company may reimburse your legal expenses if the prosecutor dismisses charges against you. See Section XIII of the above link and if you have an insurance policy, check your own policy so you know where you stand. If, however, there is no acquittal or dismissal, but instead a plea bargain, a hung jury or a conviction, you are not entitled to reimbursement of legal fees for your criminal defense. In reading the fine print of the Lockton Risk policy, you’ll notice that if found guilty, even through taking a plea bargain and pleading guilty to a very low level crime, the insurer is no longer obligated to help you fight a subsequent civil claim for liability.
The outcome of a criminal trial also affects your civil insurance coverage. The Lockton Risk policy states that if you are found guilty at trial or accept a plea bargain, your civil insurance coverage ends. Given the extended nature of criminal and civil trials, it is likely that you will be sued while waiting for the criminal trial. If this is the case, and you are found guilty or take a plea bargain, your civil insurance would likely end. This one fact makes going to trial a very big gamble, if there was a very accommodating plea bargain being offered by the prosecution.
Understand that the civil trial if covered by an insurance carrier will be totally separate from the criminal trial, with the insurance carrier hiring the attorneys for you and running the defense themselves. You have no say in how that goes, and the insurance carrier can settle the lawsuit without your permission. And, given the fact that a wrongful death claim will likely be for millions of dollars, if you choose to go the insurance route, my advice would be to not go cheap, but get the full $1,000,000.00 coverage.
Companies offering insurance include:
Second Call Defense—http://www.secondcalldefense.org/
Self Defense Association–http://sdamember.com
Concealed Weapon Insurance https://www.concealedweaponins.com
As we wrap up our discussion of insurance plans, let me add that I am peripherally aware of the USAA insurance company, which supplies insurance to military families. I have been told that this company covers self-defense acts in their insurance coverage. Not being a member, I have no access to USAA’s actual policy. Military families should check this out and see what USAA can do for you and under what circumstances. See www.usaa.com.
The bottom line on insurance is that you will have to foot the bill for your criminal defense, and expect to be reimbursed only if you are acquitted or the charges are dropped before trial.
The “Insurance-Backed” Membership Program
The only “insurance backed” membership program of which I am aware is sold by the United States Concealed Carry Association. Because they are alone in this category, there’s little choice but to address their program specifically. Their promotions emphasize that USCCA is the insured and their members are the beneficiaries. Having watched USCCA promote their Self-Defense Shield in several different permutations over a number of years, I remain uncertain how it works in practice, not theory.
I do know I personally would want to own the insurance policy if I was paying costly premiums, or at least have a signed, ironclad written agreement. The wise buyer will ask some very pointed and specific questions including:
1) Can you provide a written document detailing the step-by-step procedures of how your program works to protect me, both criminally and civilly?
2) Will you sign a contract with me, so I know that what you promise to provide is backed up by a legally-binding contract?
3) May I look at the policy that you have which names me as the beneficiary of the insurance policy?
This is serious stuff, people. When you pay money, you deserve ironclad answers to these and other questions before you bet your freedom on a claim that you are a beneficiary of an insurance policy of which you are not the named policyholder.
Pre-Paid Legal Services
Traditionally, customers concerned about legal expenses after self defense have chosen between insurance or pre-paid legal programs. There are a large number of pre-paid legal services plans marketed to the self-defense crowd. The prominent programs include CCWSafe, Texas Law Shield and U.S. Law Shield, Patriot Legal Protection, LLC, Virginia Self-Defense Law, Gun Owners Legal Defense Network and Gun Owners Legal Defense, to name but a few.
Participants in pre-paid legal service plans are provided legal services to defend against prosecution following self-defense. Most of these plans only cover attorney’s fees and not expert or investigation fees, which can run into several thousand dollars alone. You will have to come up with the money to pay out of pocket for investigators, expert witnesses and similar components of your court fight, with no reimbursement even after an acquittal. (I believe CCWSafe is the lone exception, so we will go into further detail below.)
For me, the most troubling aspect of pre-paid legal plans is that you probably will not have the choice of the attorney who is going to represent you. If I were on trial for my life, I certainly would want to pick my own attorney! The plans indicate they will assign an attorney for you. Before buying in, ask if you get to meet with the attorney beforehand, and do you have the right to reject the assigned attorney and ask for another?
Pre-paid legal plans purporting to provide nationwide coverage obviously do not operate their own law firm in each state. Instead, they will have to hire an attorney on your behalf in the state in which the case is being tried. They will need to pay that attorney’s agreed upon hourly rate. Does the nationwide legal provider look for the best deal they can find? This worries me because I would not want the low bid attorney representing me.
CCWSafe makes this claim on their website: “If our members are involved in a use of deadly force self-defense incident we provide the best defense attorneys in the U.S., expert witnesses, and investigators specially trained in use of force lawsuits and investigations. No limits or caps and no optional memberships or additional fees.” This promise, if it can be fulfilled, is good, but it raises serious concerns. First, I want to know the specifics of how they will accomplish their offer. Have they identified and contracted with the best defense attorney in every state in the union? If not, starting their relationship by lying to you is not exactly a trust-engendering beginning.
Before relying on the promise that I will be defended by the “best,” I would want to know the company’s financial capability to actually pay the money for the “best” defense attorney in my state. The best attorneys are very expensive and routinely require a $50,000 to $100,000 retainer just to get started. Can CCWSafe pay these expenses? How do they guarantee this to their customers? What will happen if two or three of their clients have cases requiring this level of financial involvement?
To me, claiming to provide “the best” smacks of puffery, and while puffery in advertising IS legal, it’s also a red flag warning the potential customer to investigate the claims and those who make them.
In my opinion, only two types of pre-paid legal service plans make any sense: the local plans providing legal representation through a local law firm so that you know the name, knowledge and experience of your attorney, as exemplified by the Texas Law Shield (https://www.texaslawshield.com) and a new plan in Virginia, started by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, called Virginia Self Defense Law. (http://www.vaselfdefenselaw.com/about/). Both firms, while not covering the expenses of investigators or experts, state that they will pay all your attorney fees. Assuming that you are comfortable with the attorneys they have assigned to the case, that is a pretty good deal. There is only one sticking point: What happens if a participant in a state-specific pre-paid legal scheme is out of state when forced to act in self defense? Do they receive any help or are they just left hanging in the wind?
There is one, final question to ask: Will your pre-paid legal plan also cover attorney’s fees for an appeal, if you are convicted? Appeals are not customarily covered in pre-paid legal plans. The exception is CCWSafe, although one must drill down into their website verbiage to make this determination.
Companies offering pre-paid legal services include:
Second Defense Alliance–https://myseconddefensealliance.com/
Firearms Legal Protection LLC https://www.firearmslegal.com
Gun Owners Legal Defense Network–http://gunownersldn.com/
National Association for Legal Gun Defense–http://selfdefensefund.com
Patriot Legal Protection (formerly CHLPP)–https://patriotlegalprotection.com/
Texas Law Shield–https://www.texaslawshield.com/
VA Self Defense Law–http://www.vaselfdefenselaw.com/
U.S. Law Shield–https://www.uslawshield.com/
Whether you like the insurance model, the pre-paid legal plans, or a membership benefits provider, you should ask one last question. Be sure what ever plan you sign on to covers ALL ACTS OF SELF DEFENSE, not just shooting someone. Most companies limit their coverage to shootings only. That exempts the majority of self-defense acts. Reviewing the twelve incidents in which the members of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. have defended themselves, only one involved one person shooting another. Before relying on anyone to protect your rights after self defense, read both the fine print and read between the lines.
How the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. operates
In comparing post-incident support plans, I have raised many questions about services and performance. Potential members really should ask these questions before joining. Thus, it is only fair that I address these subjects openly and with candor in this article. In addition, we always welcome phone calls or e-mails so we can answer any other question you might have.
How solvent is the Network?
We have never operated in the red and have never incurred debt. Instead, we started the Network conservatively and always maintained a positive bank balance, with no liabilities. Since starting at zero in 2008, we have built up our Legal Defense Fund (at the time of this update, April 2016) to over $725,000.
The Network’s leadership deposits 25% of all dues into a separate account, our Legal Defense Fund, which we reserve exclusively for the legal defense of Network members. We also receive contributions to build up the Fund, and of course, 100% of these donations go into the Fund so it continues to increase, despite drawing from it several times per year to pay attorney fees for a member. Knowing how vital the Legal Defense Fund is to fulfilling our obligations to Network members, we are always happy to answer questions from our members or prospective members about the Legal Defense Fund.
How does a member of the Network receive financial assistance after a self-defense incident?
It all starts with a phone call, telling us that you have been involved in an incident and need immediate assistance. Since we do not at that time know the particulars of the incident, on your word alone and upon request from you or your attorney we will forward up to $10,000 to the attorney of your choice to start your legal representation. If you don’t yet have an attorney, we will get to work immediately and help you find one.
Please understand that the attorney’s fee deposit money is not yours. It is still the Network’s and we expect any unused portion to be repaid to the Legal Defense Fund. The reason we immediately pay a retainer is to make sure our members are represented by a good, competent attorney as early as possible and throughout their interactions with the criminal justice system.
The Network will pay a bail bond agent up to $25,000 to post bail on behalf of a member who has used force in self defense. If the bail agent requires additional resources or collateral, the member will be required to provide collateral or funds if the amount required to post bail exceeds $25,000. In addition, the member and his or her attorney must provide facts of the case to show that their use of force had cognizable elements of self defense. This subject is more complex than a paragraph in benefits synopsis, so please review the full description of this benefit.
If charged with a crime and additional money is needed to pay the costs for your legal defense, then the Network will look at the facts of the case as provided to us by your attorney. We view these facts in a light most favorable to the member, of course, and if there is a reasonable self-defense component to the incident, then we will grant additional money to fund that member’s legal defense. That amount of money is subject to the attorney’s estimate of the cost of the legal defense because each case is different, and, of course, funding is predicated upon how much money we have in the Legal Defense Fund.
How much will you pay for a legal defense?
The Network commits to disburse up to half the Legal Defense Fund at any given time for the legal defense of any member charged with a crime after a legitimate act of self defense. Thus, the answer to that question is conditioned entirely upon the size of the Legal Defense Fund. Since the fund is now over $725,000, we could concievably pay up to $360,000 to your attorney for your legal defense. This is higher than any insurance reimbursement that I know of, and of course, we will pay your attorney up front.
Will you pay for experts, investigators and jury consultants?
There are no restrictions on whom your attorney can hire to assist your legal defense, and so, yes, if needed, the money can be spent on the above.
Do you assign me an attorney, and if so, whom?
One of the best parts of membership in the Network is that you get to hire your own legal team. You have complete control over your defense. We would not want it any other way. Still, a surprising number of armed citizens do not know attorneys they trust to represent them after self defense, so the Network also has a list of 400 Network Affiliated Attorneys across the country who are willing to help our members. Additionally, we have identfied experienced self-defense attorneys who could do a great job defending a member at trial. If needed, the member could hire one of these experienced heavy-hitters and have them argue the case alongside their local attorney. The bottom line? The member is free to choose whatever attorney they want; he or she doesn’t have to be a Network Affiliated Attorney.
Does the Network have an emergency response plan?
Yes. We call it “Boots on the Ground.” In the event that the member is involved in a self-defense incident, has been arrested and has yet to obtain counsel, the Network will immediately dispatch a representative to your location, if needed, to work with you and your family to obtain legal representation. The “Boots on the Ground” emergency contact number is my personal cell phone number. You call it and I will answer, or if I am not immediately available, I will call back as soon as I get the message. This number is on the back of all Network membership cards. It is for use during non-office hours; if your need arises between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Pacific time zone), you should call the Network office at 360-978-5200.
Will you work cooperatively with other companies?
Having an insurance policy or a pre-paid legal plan does not affect the member benefits and support we extend. If you have a pre-paid legal program, while your attorney fees will be covered by the pre-paid legal plan, we can provide money for experts, consultants, and other costs of putting on a vigorous defense.
We make one request of members: if we give you a grant to pay for criminal defense and upon acquittal an insurance company reimburses you the money we granted for your defense, then we expect that money to be returned to the Legal Defense Fund. We want it available to defend the next member facing charges. Any award of money to help pay for your legal defense will be conditioned upon being paid back from any insurance settlements.
I hope I never need to go to court! What other benefits come with Network?
First and foremost, we believe the Network’s educational component is second to none. We send all new members a 235-page book and eight educational DVDs bearing on the many facets of use of deadly force in self defense. These DVDs serve two important purposes. First, the Network is strongest when each member understands his or her rights and responsiblies before using deadly force in self defense.
Secondly, the tangible DVD disks comprise a real, permanent part of your training history, documented so that if you need to prove in court that you understood a particular concept, the DVDs can be introduced into evidence for that purpose. Listening to a podcast, or watching a presentation on the Internet is fine, but it is hard to document and is not replicable in court.
The Network also distributes a monthly online journal focused on legal issues for self defense. It includes interviews with leading trainers, a regular column to which Network Affiliated Attorneys contribute, thought-provoking commentary by Network leadership and more. In addition to the web page version, a PDF format is also provided should the member wish to print, initial and file away any part of it to document their studies.
The Network was formed and developed by self-defense legal experts who know and understand what exactly are the issues in self-defense legal cases. We are not a group of attorneys wanting to cash in on the growing number of armed citizens, nor are we hyper-marketers who send e-mail after e-mail to prospective members with the intention of scaring them into buying their program, or frivolously enticing them into joining with the offer of free guns and ammo. Instead, the Network is a group of conservative armed citizens, who take armed self defense with all its responsibilities very seriously. This we will continue to do so as long as we are in business.
NOTE: If the reader is one of our competitors, and you feel that I have made any mistakes in comparing your program to ours, please feel free to e-mail me and explain your concerns. I have worked hard to be fair and honest in this article, and if I have made a mistake, I will cheerfully correct it. Additionally, I did not intentionally leave any company out of this comparison, so if you are not mentioned here, it is because I was unaware of your company. If you want to be listed in one of the categories, as are the other companies, please contact me and I will add you to my evaluation.
We posted this document originally on August 15, 2014 and will update it periodically, showing the date of the most current revision below.
Revised 4/15/2016 to update membership numbers, Legal Defense Fund balance and remove a prepaid legal plan that is no longer in business.