You are CEO of LegalShield. The company was founded in 1972, so I am sure many people know about your activities. For those who don’t, in particular in Europe: can you say something about the company and its core activities?
LegalShield was designed to protect hardworking citizens from a legal process that can often be expensive, intimidating, and confusing. Our founder, Harland Stonecipher, began the company based on a vision and mission that continues to resonate today.
LegalShield started on the idea of “equal access to justice” for all. Then and today, LegalShield provides peace of mind, protection and assurance to our members who can sleep peacefully at night with the knowledge that a spurious lawsuit, a stolen identity, or even a traffic ticket can be handled by a lawyer.
When we look at the competitive landscape, are initiatives like LegalZoom (amongst others) dilutive on your growth, and in what way do you develop counter actions to make sure that your customer base keeps growing?
There is competition in every industry. LegalShield, however, has seen record growth for the last eight months, and this trend exemplifies our strength in the market. Our legal product, our identity theft product and our broker solutions business continue to grow month over month. We think competition is good for our business. What differentiates LegalShield from its competitors is that we have a dedicated and highly trained network of provider law firms and referral attorneys who have an average of 20 years’ experience and expertise in all fields of law. No other company has a network like this. When you become a LegalShield member, you do not have to rely on customer reviews or a hidden “algorithm” that determines how good your legal representation may be. With LegalShield, you can count on receiving quality legal advice and representation every time.
What are the Unique Value Points of LegalShield from a customer perspective?
LegalShield offers a dedicated provider law firm and referral attorney network, the experience of a company that has provided legal coverage for over forty-five years, a mindset focused on continuous improvement, and dedicated staff across the U.S. that works tirelessly to make sure our members receive the best service possible. Unlike any other company in the legal services space, LegalShield has a mobile app for our members that puts a law firm in the palm of your hand. Every member has immediate access to their law firm by pushing a single button on the mobile app, even in covered emergencies. And for speeding tickets, the mobile app allows a member to take a picture of the speeding ticket and send it directly to their law firm by the click of a single button. The LegalShield mobile app is the only one that has one-touch access to a law firm.
As CEO you took the helm in 2014. What inspired you to lead this company?
As CEO I am inspired by three things: first, the vision that Harland Stonecipher had when he created LegalShield, to expand access to legal services for everyone; second, the potential that LegalShield has to improve the practice of law; and, third and most important, the ability of the company to promote both justice and opportunity for all citizens.
At the start of the company LegalShield definitely was at the forefront of innovation in the legal market. Can you elaborate on the innovative character. LegalShield is a 45-year-old start-up company. Innovation has driven our business from the start, and we work tirelessly to stay at the cutting edge of legal services.
In the 20th century we implemented technologies such as modern call-centers and corresponding technologies to ensure that our customers received quality products. Now, in the 21st century, we are into cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and ever-improving smartphone applications. Two innovations I take great pride in are SNAP, the instant traffic ticket application, which allows our customers to snap a picture of the ticket on their phone and receive immediate legal assistance; and ERIN, our artificial intelligence bot who answers customer questions on our website.
We are constantly working to improve ERIN’s capabilities and to provide additional Smartphone applications, such as ASK, a database of commonly asked legal questions that members can review for instantaneous feedback on legal related questions.
I expect marketing and technology to be the driving forces for further innovating the services offered. If so, can you indicate what developments you see taking place in the near future?
I absolutely agree that marketing and technology will be driving forces behind how we offer our services. I expect that we’ll continue to see big data and artificial intelligence improve and refine how businesses market their products and provide higher quality services, but the most important consideration when looking forward is the fact that technology is growing at an astounding rate.
What seems impossible today may become reality by next year. Therefore, it is incredibly important that we remain open to change and adaptable to new technologies as they become available.
It’s LegalShield’s ambition to enlarge its marketshare via 3 pillars: technology, client base and CLE. Could you touch briefly upon those elements and indicate what you see as key in this process?
Technology: LegalShield will continue to seek innovative ways to knock down barriers and increase accelerators across multiple platforms to help protect and empower citizens.
Client base: LegalShield will continue to compete in the direct sales channel through word of mouth marketing, in the employee benefits arena with large, medium and small businesses, and in the direct-to-consumer market online and with freemium models, and finally in private label partnerships.
CLE: LegalShield will continue to improve our Provider law firms and referral attorney network by offering relevant, necessary, and professional legal education in aspects not only limited to the law, but in areas such as customer service and emotional intelligence.
Each of these pillars is important in itself. However, the key to our growth is ensuring that everything we do to improve these pillars points toward our end goal of providing the best legal provider service.
Therefore, we do not cut corners or attempt to apply short-term solutions toward long term goals.
How does the European market differ from the US market in terms of access to legal protection, and do you have the ambition of crossing the pond?
The European market represents a more complex and diverse legal arena than the U.S. However, the U.S. legal field is also “shattered,” as laws vary state by state. LegalShield is evaluating international expansion, including the European market. I believe that LegalShield’s business model would be ideal in the European market. Imagine being a French citizen able to contact a Dutch attorney for a speeding ticket issued in Amsterdam with a just a picture from a driver’s smartphone, or having an English Barrister review the lease of a German company’s secondary office space in London with a simple e-mail. Once LegalShield establishes a solid Provider network similar to what we have on our side of the pond, these potentially complex legal needs could become simple solutions for the entire European continent.
Do you see differences in the way American and European firms operate in developing, planning and implementing innovative strategies?
The European market continues to deliver incredible services and products across the globe, and European firms continue to be some of the most innovative in the world. However, innovation has long been a hallmark of the American identity, and American firms may be more willing to take chances and change their business practices quickly in order to address changes in the marketplace.
There is a lot of discussion ongoing about disruption in the legal market. Some say the legal market is on the verge of a disruptive force that will have a huge effect on the market, then again, others say change will be an incremental process and the market will evolve naturally. What are your thoughts on this?
The legal profession seeks to provide stability and reliability to clients. I believe that the legal profession will respond to both disruptive forces and incremental changes in an orderly, incremental manner as a result. If the legal profession responded to changes with rapid alterations in services and business practices, we would see chaos as clients attempted to respond to new standards. There is no doubt that the legal field will change. However, it is imperative that the change occur in a manner that ensures the same reliability and stability that the legal field has always provided.
The legal profession is changing, and professionals need to be more business and tech savvy. What do you think about this change, and what do you see as the biggest challenge for the legal professional in, let’s say, five years from now?
The internet revolution has changed nearly every aspect of nearly every field of business. Further change is inevitable, and I think it’s important that we recognize this, use change to our advantage, and let change improve our business.
The biggest challenge I see in the legal profession five years from now will be the ethical and professional issues that attorneys and bar associations face as technology continues to increase its reach into daily life. I believe that the legal field will overcome these challenges—and provide an even higher quality of legal service.
To conclude, is there something else you would like to share with our readers in the U.S., Asia and Europe?
"My name is Jeff Bell, and I am just getting started—because at LegalShield, we know the best is yet to come!"
Jeff Bell was named Chief Executive Officer of LegalShield in July, 2014, the leading provider of legal services in the United States and 4 Canadian Provinces with nearly 800 employees and 1.62 million members. Most recently, Jeff worked in start-up investing and development as a partner at NCT Ventures LLC. with a focus upon marketplace creation,and innovative advertising and media technologies. Previously, Mr. Bell had been the Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Global Marketing, Interactive Entertainment Business (Xbox). He also served as Vice President of the Chrysler and Jeep Divisions. Mr. Bell serves on the Board of NCT Ventures LLC, and as Chairman of the Board of DOmedia LLC. He also is a member of the Board of Advisors for Nimia. In the past few years, Mr. Bell served as a Senior Advisor to MXM, and Organic, Inc., both leading digital agencies, and to the President of NBC Marketing. At Microsoft, Bell oversaw all Xbox marketing. He joined the company in 2006, and under his leadership, the Xbox had its first profitable year in 2007. He expanded Xbox Live to include Netflix, as well as launching the video games "Halo 3," "Gears of War," and "Rock Band," to name a few. He received the prestigious 2008 Titanium Lion at the Cannes Advertising Awards for Halo 3. In 2005, Jeff received the Advertising Age Award for “Interactive Marketer of the Year,” & was named the AdAge "Entertainment Marketer of the year" in 2007 for his work at Chrysler and launching Gears of War, respectively. Bell honed his skills during his time at Chrysler and Ford, where he rose through the ranks. He was instrumental in turning around the Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler brands with ad campaign “That Thang Gotta Hemi? Sweet,” the Chrysler 300, “Stow ‘n Go” minivan and Jeep 4-door Wrangler launches. Mr. Bell earned a B.A. degree in history & Spanish from Kenyon College in '84, a M.A. in from Johns Hopkins in '88, & an M.B.A. from The Wharton School in '89. He and his wife have three sons.