September 01, 2015
Equal Access to Equal Justice
by Jeff Bell
As I approach my first full year as Chief Executive Officer of LegalShield, I am awed by how quickly time has passed and how humbled I am to serve this great company and cause. While I am proud of the things I’ve done previously at Ford, Chrysler and Microsoft, I am truly inspired by our mission at LegalShield. We want to improve people’s lives—both our members and independent sale associates.
We believe that to participate fully as U.S. and Canadian citizens, people must live freely under the law. We seek to help our members take control over their lives and to exercise their full rights. We want them to understand the laws under which they live and to seek the advice and counsel of a law firm whenever they need it so that they live in confidence and with peace of mind. We have a profound belief in free enterprise and entrepreneurship, and we desire more Canadians and U.S. citizens to start their own home-based businesses. In short, we believe in equal access to equal justice and in the North American promise of opportunity and liberty.
We are so committed to direct selling that we proudly strive to be the best direct selling company in North America. But given our mission, we also profoundly believe that we can do well while we do “good” for others. We believe it is what sets us apart. Because, while every age faces “the best of times and the worst of times,” the challenges we face as a society, especially in the United States, demand our service.
The LegalShield leadership team and the leaders of our network marketing and direct selling organization acknowledge that in the aftermath of several recent events that have involved violence and community unrest, some members of our society feel that they are not equally protected or represented under the law. Regardless of the reason that people feel disenfranchised, we embrace every citizen’s right to free speech and assembly, albeit peaceful. By the very definition of our existence as a company, we champion the rule of law.
We accept that our judicial system is not perfect, but it is designed to constantly improve. Moreover, we advocate education and civic engagement. We promote conversation and dialog for progress and inclusion. The manner by which the Canadian and U.S. judicial systems were created necessitates that laws must change. A major force is the consistent pressure for the rule of the law to evolve towards greater transparency and accountability, and at all times the access to our judicial system must be open to everyone.
Faith in our justice system—that everyone is entitled to have their day in court—is so basic to our country that sometimes it seems like we litigate everything. The right to have our disputes, whether criminal or civil in nature, settled by an impartial judge or jury is more than important; it is at the very heart of the U.S. and Canadian constitutions and our national identities. If anything could be more fundamentally North American than the right to vote, this would be it: Every citizen, regardless of age, can become involved in a court decision, and no one has to register to be a juror, plaintiff, defendant, witness or victim.
Central to our concept of justice is impartiality. The figure of Justice is traditionally depicted as wearing a blindfold precisely because she cannot do her work if she favors (or fears) one party or another because of their appearance, their position in society, or any factor other than the specific facts of the case. No one wants to be prejudged as inherently dangerous, criminal, violent, dishonest, etc., solely based on their skin color, gender, the way they are dressed or their profession. We all want the opportunity to explain our actions. Only an impartial court of law affords us that opportunity.
At the same time, only competent counsel for all parties can enable a just outcome. Our system of justice is built around an adversarial process, where advocates represent their parties’ positions before an impartial judge or jury, who attempt to determine the truth of the case. In such a system, parties who lack access to an advocate cannot hope to obtain justice. This is true whether one is charged with a heinous crime or a misdemeanor, whether the legal action is criminal or civil. If access to counsel is a privilege of wealth, rather than a right for all, we will have injustice and a loss of faith in the system.
Perhaps, like many people, you sometimes watch news coverage of court decisions and ask yourself, “What was the jury thinking? I could have made a better decision!” But again, if you’re like many people, when that jury duty summons arrives, you get creative trying to find ways to get out of serving. Instead, view this as your chance to participate in the justice system, making it more perfect by your own actions. An active and informed citizenry is a benefit for all of us.
Our founding fathers understood well that as human beings in an imperfect world we might at times have to settle for justice that falls short of perfection, but it is justice nonetheless. As James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The genius of our system is not that it’s perfect, but that we expect and strive for continuous improvement. Sometimes, that improvement comes through far-sighted reform, and sometimes it comes through painful experience.
Rather than separate groups circling their various wagons, let’s use this as an opportunity for engagement, education and transparency. For example, while they may feel criticized or embattled, police departments could take this opportunity to proactively engage with the communities they serve, helping them understand their policies and procedures.
More than anything else, we must demand as citizens that the judicial system be held fully accountable to constantly improve its performance. In a healthy republic, authority cannot be separated from accountability. As citizens, we need to know more about how our system should function, and how it actually functions. Get educated, especially in the area of civics, and serve your communities and nation to improve our system of government, including the judicial system.
Jeff Bell is CEO of LegalShield.