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Law firm cited for serving unmet needs of citizenry

Just two years out of law school, Bert Whitehead IV already has attracted the attention of the American Bar Association in a good way.

As the founder and president of Access Legal Care, Whitehead was recognized by the ABA earlier this year with the Louis M. Brown Award, becoming the first Michigan recipient of the honor in its 18-year existence. The award, named in memory of the late American attorney who pioneered the field of preventive law, is presented annually to those matching the unmet legal needs of the middle class and those of moderate incomes with lawyers who provide affordable legal information, services, and representation.

Whitehead, through the law firm he founded upon graduation from Cooley Law School in May 2011, has done just that, developing a program model that the ABA said delivers legal services in ways that are exemplary and replicable.

Such high praise is the byproduct of a system that is based on 12 key components, according to Whitehead, a Redford Township resident who is pursuing a Ph.D. in business administration. First and foremost, he said, is to be profit-driven in all

respects, which will allow Access Legal Care to fulfill its mission.

We measure success of that mission by our ability to provide the most common

legal services that lower- and middle-income people would likely ever need, at

40 to 60 percent lower fees than typical law firms, with low initial retainers averaging $350, and monthly payment plans of $250 to $350 per month, if necessary, Whitehead said.

The Access Legal Care law firm, Whitehead explained, provides legal services delivery from a central location in Michigan, utilizing a Primary Care Attorney to offer legal

advice and to manage the attorney-client relationship throughout the case primarily remotely via phone, Internet, and e-mail.

In an effort to keep client costs down, the firm also relies heavily on local independent of counsel attorneys who provide in-person representation at hearings, trials, and any face-to-face client meetings, Whitehead indicated. These local, thin-client lawyers, only provide as-needed, on-the-spot local representation, while all other services for the clients case is provided from the central server of Access Legal Care, according to Whitehead, noting that the firm has used 10 lawyers throughout Michigan.

The focus of its practice is on the most common legal services that lower- and middle-income people would ever need, including family law cases such as landlord/tenant disputes, basic wills and trusts, small business incorporations, minor creditor/debtor cases, basic contracts, routine traffic cases, and small estate probate matters, Whitehead indicated.

The business model that Whitehead has developed, which he believes caters to low bono legal needs, has the potential to pay long-term dividends for the under-served in the legal community. So said John Nussbaumer, dean of the Auburn Hills Campus of Cooley Law School.

We are very proud of Bert and Access Legal Care for tackling the problem of providing affordable legal services to persons of limited means who otherwise would not have access to those services, Nussbaumer said. His innovative combination of business systems, technology, and law provide a national model for others to follow . . .

Whitehead, married and the father of seven children and step-children, formerly worked for his father, Bert Whitehead III, a 1972 Detroit College of Law alum who founded the

Cambridge Connection, a company that provides tax and financial planning services. He has worked in the information technology field for the past 15 years, and has an MBA and a Black Belt in Six Sigma process improvement.

True to his legal alma mater, Whitehead finds qualified attorneys for hearings by using Cooleys alumni database of 15,000 lawyers, while using legalmatch.com, The Rockey Lawyer On-Call program, the Legal Club of America, and Internet marketing to gain customers. In addition, the firm uses its own proprietary software, Access Legal Docs, to efficiently generate documents and process how-tos for over 70 legal service components, Whitehead said.

His work is faith driven, a fact that Whitehead is proud to share with his clientele.

I am a Christian, and this is important to me because I believe God, in his heart for justice and mercy, has both called and equipped me to help make legal care more affordable for lower- and middle-income people, while making it more profitable for attorneys, Whitehead said.

By Tom Kirvan

 

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