Jazz Hampton explains how his firm’s new app offers real-time attorney representation and helps deescalate interactions with law enforcement
In a recent edition of the Legal Beagle Podcast, which is available on YouTube and Anchor, Jonathan Negretti chatted with TurnSignl co-founder Jazz Hampton. Based in Minneapolis, TurnSignl has developed an app that enables any driver who is stopped by law enforcement or in a car accident to have a live video consultation with an attorney. A consultation can begin at the press of a button or voice command. The TurnSignl app also enables the driver’s smartphone camera, to record interactions with law enforcement. TurnSignl attorneys are vetted and trained to deescalate interactions between police, drivers, and passengers.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Jonathan Negretti: Tell me about TurnSignl in a nutshell. What is the app and how does it help us?
Jazz Hampton: TurnSignl is an app that you have on your phone like any other app. It has a really clean and simple user interface. When you open the app, you just press one button when you’re being pulled over or when you’re in an accident. That one button instantly starts recording with the front-facing camera of your phone, no matter what device you’re using — Android or Apple. It then instantly starts a video conference with an attorney live, 24-7, 365.
We have stables of attorneys who are there and willing to answer calls for drivers in their time of need — especially here in Minnesota, which everyone knows has become the epicenter of a call for social change and a yearning for some equity in the legal and criminal justice system.
As a great example, we had a call recently at 1:37 in the morning here in Minnesota. The driver pressed the app and the attorney answered the call. The attorney was there with the driver at 1:37 in the morning before the officer was even at the window — protecting their rights during that interaction. Consent to searching the car wasn’t given. The driver had concerns about whether or not they’d be returning to jail, as they had been incarcerated previously. At the end of that call at 1:37 in the morning, not only did the driver have the opportunity to drive home safe, they thanked us and the platform afterwards.
We have a 15-question survey. The last question was, “How did TurnSignl make you feel this day? What else should we know?” And they said it’s a vital part of the interaction at the onset with the criminal justice system. They know it would be really important for many people moving forward.
Jonathan Negretti: Have you found pushback from the police, in terms of “I don’t want this app on. I pulled you over for a traffic stop and you have this app? Who is this person on the app?” Have you faced that? How do you deal with that? What is the protocol if that happens?
Jazz Hampton: That’s a great question. Our mission is simple and it’s three-pronged: to protect drivers’ civil rights, to deescalate roadside interactions, and to ensure both drivers and law enforcement return home safe at the end of every day. That last part’s important, because what we do is go out and talk to law enforcement agencies before we’re live in any state or market.
In Minnesota we talked to over 20 police officers, several chiefs of police, all the way down to boots-on-the-ground police officers in St. Paul. What we’re doing in that conversation is saying, “When you see a TurnSignl bumper sticker or window decal, I want you to feel safer approaching that car than you do in any other interaction you have. It’s recording, there’s an attorney on the phone. You’re safe here, right?” That is the first step in that deescalation process between driver and law enforcement officer.
Next, every attorney on our platform has to go through deescalation training before they can even come onto the platform. It already came to light in the state of Minnesota during a pullover. The officer’s like, “Can you turn off your phone?” The driver said, “Oh, I’m using TurnSignl.” And the attorney said, “Hi, I’m an attorney from TurnSignl. Have you heard of our service?” And the officer looked at the camera and said, “Okay, you can leave it on.” And that’s exactly what we want to happen.
What we ask [law enforcement] to do is to really build a culture [that TurnSignl cameras] aren’t adversarial. The body cams aren’t adversarial. They’re just here to document what’s happening and to make sure everything happens as the law says it should. At the end of every day, people’s safety is paramount. That’s what we’re really looking to do before anything else.
Jonathan Negretti: Let’s say someone’s watching this podcast and they want to be a user of TurnSignl. Their vision is, “Look, if I ever am in an accident, I want to have protection immediately and make sure that I do the right things.” There’s a lot of bad information out there about what to do right after an accident. How can TurnSignl help that person?
Jazz Hampton: If you download TurnSignl and look at the user interface, there are two buttons: “I’ve been in an accident” and “I’ve been pulled over.” The system in our backend is bifurcated, so when you hit the button, it calls two different groups of attorneys. When you are in an accident and you hit that button, it calls an attorney specialized in personal injury law. They know exactly what you should be doing and the state you are in. It’s not a personal injury lawyer from California answering a Minnesota call. It’s all localized, which is really exciting because you can also connect with someone who can help you in the future, should you need it.
Jonathan Negretti: Does the attorney-client relationship begin at the point of that interaction? I was in a crash. I turn on TurnSignl, and an attorney pops up. I say, “I don’t know what to do. Help guide me through this situation.” Is there an attorney-client relationship formed at that point and some of the stuff discussed protected and confidential? How does that work within the application?
Jazz Hampton: I think any lawyer would say it depends. From TurnSignl’s point of view, this is a consult just like anything else. If someone was in an accident at 1:00 and then went home and, and started calling attorneys in their Rolodex saying, “Hey, this was the incident. What should I be doing?” The attorney would give them guidance and say, “If you need help or you’d like to retain me, let me know.” That was a consult.
This is just an on-the-scene consult. And that’s what we really view it as — as does the law in Minnesota. Also, with any of these, even in the criminal stance, the belief is when you’re having that initial consult, it’s still protected under the rules of professional responsibility, from a privilege standpoint. Even consultations — people wouldn’t be comfortable being honest during a consultation if they didn’t know that it would be protected, even if they didn’t decide to retain that attorney. That’s the way the law is set up. I, personally, believe the law isn’t always set up well.
The way that it’s structured — “Hey, let me be honest about what I’m going through or what has happened to me, whether or not I want to work with you, and see what kind of guidance you would give. Then, I can decide if I would retain you subsequently” — is a really good way to protect drivers in this sense, and make sure they’re able to get some equity with their access to legal consult.
Jonathan Negretti: Is that interaction recorded the minute that the attorney and the user engage with the application? Is it being recorded or is not being recorded?
Jazz Hampton: The recording with the front-face camera actually starts the second you press the button. It doesn’t even wait on the attorney to arrive. That’s one of the most important things. We can start that video recording right away, before the attorney’s even on the phone.
Jonathan Negretti: How did you get involved in this project? What makes you walk away from the practice of law and say, “This is something I want to do and put everything I have behind it?”
Jazz Hampton: My two co-founders — Andre and Mike — and I are three black men from the Twin Cities. They grew up in St. Paul. They’ve known each other since they were 4 years old. I’ve known them for the last 15 years. We went to college together, as well, and they both got their MBAs — one is a finance MBA, one is an organizational MBA. I’m a lawyer, my undergrad is in computer science, in information systems.
We had all of these pieces that could come together to be a part of the solution that started here in our hometown. They grew with the Castile family, playing sports with that family. Then, we see George Floyd happen — again, here in our home state. We’re saying, “There’s a critical mass of awareness around this issue, and there are disparities and inequities in how the criminal justice system touches our community. If there’s awareness and no one’s building a solution, why aren’t we? Education-wise, experience-wise, we’re set up to do it.”
So, we all left our jobs. Mike left Sony Electronics. He was in their enterprise sales division. Dre left a credit union, where he was building up a finance group. I will say all of our wives and significant others allowed us to do this as well.
My wife was pregnant with our third child. We have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and she was pregnant with our third. And I was like, “Hey, it’s a pandemic and you’re pregnant. Can I quit my job and start a start up?”
You know, 5% of attorneys are Black. Seeing that issue as a Black attorney, I was like, “Well, why aren’t I part of the solution? Why am I just out here defending Fortune 500 companies and their slip-and-fall and product liability cases when I could be doing something really meaningful with my law degree as well?” It was an easy choice for me once my wife was on board.
Jonathan Negretti: How do you roll this out nationwide if someone’s in California and they want to use this app or want to be involved — whether they’re on the user end or they’re an attorney that wants to be involved to help? When is it coming? How is that process going to play out from, from your standpoint?
Jazz Hampton: We’re working to partner with as many attorneys as possible. If we partner with a giant law firm that can cover all of the states, or a good amount of them, then we’re live in that state. The analogy I always use is we’re like T-Mobile. I just have to go and stand at the cell phone tower, which is the attorneys. Once we went to Georgia and met with the attorneys and onboarded them all, now the cell phone tower’s up and I just open my computer and I type a few words and Georgia’s live. And anyone can download it and use that app then. That’s what we mean when we say we’re live in Minnesota and Georgia.
If you download the app in California right now, I’d say, “Hey, we’re going to be there soon. We look forward to serving you.” What we’re doing right now is actively talking to lawyers in many states, so that we can stand up those cell phone towers simultaneously. Right now, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and California are on the more immediate roadmap of places we hope to open up here within the next 30 to 60 days. We’re also looking at Texas and Arizona, as well. There’s a lot of different opportunities.
The one thing I guess I haven’t said is that we’re partnering with businesses. People think of our drivers as folks from the inner city or folks who have higher interaction with law enforcement. But what else we’re doing is partnering with businesses to say, “Hey, you provide pet insurance and dental insurance to your employees. I also want you to provide TurnSignl as a benefit, so your employees feel safe driving to or from work with their kids at a basketball tournament for the weekend.”
iHeart Radio is a great example. If you live in Minnesota and you work at iHeart Radio, you get TurnSignl for free as a benefit for them being your employer. We’re doing that with many businesses, which also again diversifies who uses our app and what the landscape of the entire platform looks like. We’re excited for businesses to do that. We actually just partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield on a large initiative as well, so there are exciting things coming for the user standpoint as well.
Jonathan Negretti: Do you guys envision these states that you mentioned earlier — the onboarding of these states within the next 12 months, 18 months, 24 months? What’s, what’s the plan for those who are interested in TurnSignl coming to their state, but they maybe weren’t listed in the states that you named? What’s your vision for how long it may take to get this nationwide?
Jazz Hampton: Our ambitious goal is to get it nationwide by the end of 2022. But the funny thing is, nationwide could happen in a month, or it could happen over the course of 16 months. If it’s one of these unbelievable partners — people who join things like the anti-racist law firm alliance (Law Firm Antiracism Alliance) or some of these organizations — and we get a big law firm that says, “Hey, we can come in and turn on these eight states because we have 200 PI attorneys or 100 criminal attorneys,” then it goes like this [snaps fingers]. We’re looking to make those partnerships and those are really important to us.
But if we keep doing it the way we’ve started so far and with the organic growth that we’re doing, we think it’ll be a state-by-state roll-out and regions again with D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The end of 2022, into 2023, is when we want to be nationwide, to be able to provide TurnSignl to the entire country. I want TurnSignl to be ubiquitous in the sense of, “I went to the bar last night and I had a few drinks and I Ubered home” or “I was driving the other day, and I got pulled over and I used TurnSignl.” I want it to be ubiquitous on that level. I want to make sure that people know everywhere what we’re doing and that takes all 50 states.