by Gila Hayes
The Network started affiliating with attorneys back in 2008 when, in response to our member-education lectures on DVD about preparing for the legal aftermath of a shooting, members told us they were having trouble taking action on recommendations to select an attorney before needing to call one after self defense. “How hard can that be?” we innocently exclaimed.
Well, as we were to learn, taking that advice was actually quite a challenge. Not only were many Joe and Jane Average members exceedingly uncomfortable reaching out to the legal profession, the receptionists answering the phones at law firms really didn’t know what to do with people calling in without a pending legal matter, and if the poor armed citizen actually made it into the attorney’s presence, they sometimes met with uncomfortable asides like, “What are you planning to do? Shoot someone?” because a lawyer who is not “one of us” but rather spends the day defending burglars, car thieves and drunk drivers too often simply could not understand why an armed citizen would try to get their legal ducks in a row to prevent catastrophe later.
Obviously, some assistance was required. Drawing on our advisory board members’ professional contacts, those of our affiliated instructors and our own contacts in the world of the armed citizen, we began to offer complimentary membership with full membership benefits to attorneys who would make their contact information available to Network members. It was–and still is–our goal to affiliate with lawyers who share the bond common to armed citizens and thus make getting to know an attorney a little easier for our members.
That initial outreach netted us our first cadre of affiliated attorneys, but as the Network grew and members joined from all across the nation, it became obvious that we needed many more affiliated attorneys, so we spread our nets wider, investing quite a bit of time reaching out to gun friendly attorneys to build these important affiliations. To this day, attorney recruitment is an ongoing effort and now that it is a mature facet of our program, we further invest a portion of one team member’s working hours to maintain those relationships through periodic contact to keep our listings up to date. Lucky for me, she’s a former paralegal who well understands law firm operations.
That’s why we have always chosen to restrict access to the affiliated attorney listings to members, despite some pretty outrageous pressure from lookie-loos who don’t want to join without first knowing the names and pedigrees of attorneys we’re affiliated with in their neighborhood. At first blush, that might seem a reasonable demand, and I guess requiring review of our affiliated attorney lists before joining would make sense IF the Network only paid affiliated attorneys to provide representation for members after self defense. To the contrary, however, the Network is the post self defense funding arm that pays the lawyer, any lawyer, the member designates. We have always emphasized that the Network member never gives up that all-important decision. Choosing your own attorney is one of the defining differences that sets the Network’s membership benefits apart from the more common pre-paid legal schemes marketed today.
I can only guess that the latest snippy email I got about not making affiliated attorney lists public came from a non-member who stopped reading after I wrote, “The names and contact information of the affiliated attorneys in your state are reserved for Network members only,” and missed the next words, “but please understand that the Network isn't an attorney referral resource, and the affiliated attorneys are only one of a variety of membership benefits for which our members are joining. In addition, members are never required to use a Network Affiliated Attorney in order to receive Network assistance after a self-defense incident.”
Bottom line: We do not assign attorneys to members! That would be a lot like having a doctor assigned to you, and then realizing that you really do not like or trust your assigned physician. Oh, wait! That is what my health insurance does, and by the way, I despise that insurance cooperative. The last thing I want is to create that kind of dissatisfaction amongst members!
Besides, if the Network assigned attorneys, we would be in the untenable position of needing to sit in judgment over the skills, abilities and suitability of 420 lawyers serving all the states of the Union. Could we legitimately impose that level of supervision and oversight? Not in a million years, and especially not if we are to increase the numbers of affiliated attorneys, not cut back that valuable resource.
The Network, despite the pleasure we take in our relationships with our affiliates, simply cannot make an endorsement for any of their skills and abilities. Our members, much like a medical patient needing a physician’s care, has to take personal responsibility and decide if the lawyer they confer with either after the incident or hopefully, before, is a good fit for the member’s needs.
Of the 13 members who have used force in self defense since we opened the Network, I know that most have at one point or another in the progression of their case phoned Network President Marty Hayes and hashed out questions about one or another confounding aspect of their legal defense. He has been able to act as a sounding board, serving as a friendly listener, but at the end of the call, he always leaves the decisions that affect the member’s liberty in the member’s hands. To do otherwise would be extremely unethical.
I bring this up, because of the very human propensity to believe what we want to be true and hear what we want to be told. I understand! Living responsibly is sometimes a lot of work. Sometimes I get tired of being a responsible adult, too! But friends and fellow Network members, life’s important decisions cannot be made for us by others, or, for that matter, assigned to a surrogate by paying a yearly fee. (Besides, membership dues are paid for financial assistance with legal expenses after self defense and for preparatory education, not for access to an attorney referral list!)
Some steps, the responsible adult has to make personally. Can we help? Sure, we can provide insights into how legal processes work, including sharing knowledge that may help members know what to ask an attorney or decide whom to call for legal help. We’ve written on this topic multiple times in years past:
http://armedcitizensnetwork.org/finding-an-attorney, http://armedcitizensnetwork.org/44-our-journal/263-finding-the-right-attorney and http://armedcitizensnetwork.org/index.php/editorial, to name a few of our most-cited examples.
We live in a society that likes to contract out critical personal decisions! People pay advisors to manage their money, counselors to make decisions about their personal lives, and expect government to manage just about every other aspect of their lives! That is not the way we roll, here at the Network.
I started this commentary hoping to correct mistaken beliefs about Network attorney affiliations to which members and non-members cling. There is one more topic to clear up. Last month, a member contacted me with a request that affiliated attorneys provide a no-fee initial consultation to Network members so the possible client could get to know the attorney before needing his or her services after a self-defense incident.
First, the Network does not impose any such requirement upon our diverse group of affiliates, although some have written in past commentaries that they do offer no fee meet-and-greets, as a few indicate at page eleven of our March 2013 journal, page seven of the April 2013 edition, and page nine of the May 2013 journal.
Yes, some offer no-fee consultations and some do not, but seriously, folks, such a requirement is far outside the scope of our agreement with the attorneys. If we made that a requirement for participation affiliated attorney resource would shrink dramatically. It simply asks too much. The solo practitioner might be able to work it into his or her busy day, but what of a young armed citizen in the legal profession who is a junior member at a large firm? How is he or she to explain that half hour of non-billable time to the firm?
Instead of putting up obstacles to participating with us as affiliated attorneys, I would strongly prefer to GROW our affiliations with the legal profession! Indeed, I aspire to double and treble this resource in the years to come. I’m committed to maintaining our affiliated attorney list as the vigorous wide-reaching list of various skills, talents and abilities spread all across this great nation that we originally envisioned, have worked so hard to build, and continue to invest in maintaining and growing.
Click here to return to November 2016 Journal to read more.