Pre-paid legal services for small business-421

Pre-paid legal services for small business

If you are operating your own business, you cannot afford to go it alone

when it comes to legal matters. The ever increasing complexities of law,

spiralling costs of lawsuits and the proliferation of government red tape

can land you in a lot of trouble.

The flip of the coin is hardly attractive either! Hiring a lawyer can

constitute a substantial financial investment many cash-strapped small

businesses and entrepreneurs cannot sustain. Lawyers charge a minimum of

$200 per hour when it comes to “business law” and it can get very

costly if you are involved in lengthy legal procedures, complicated

contracts or business transactions.

There may just be a glitter of hope in pre-paid legal plans. For a set

monthly price, some legal providers are now bundling a whole suite of

legal services especially tailored to the needs of small-businesses.

Whether you need phone consultation on the legal complexities of a lease

contract, or require legal representation during tax audits, a pre-paid

plan can help you manage legal costs. An array of services is included as

“standard coverage” at no cost to you in the plan, and any legal matters

not covered can be provided with a discount on fees.

Before you take the leap, you need to keep some caveats in mind.

You need to know more about the quality of service you are likely to get.

While lower fees do not necessarily infer lower quality of work, it is

always necessary to bear in mind that legal specialization plays a crucial

part and lawyers are not interchangeable. Ask for references from previous

clients or ask entrepreneurs who’ve used the services of the provider about

the quality of work they have received from them. Use your state bar

association, service organizations in your locale and your local Better

Business Bureau to research law firms and the background of the attorneys

in the network before selecting them. Things to look for are the number of

years they have been operating, complaints from previous customers, the

education background of attorneys, professional track record and so forth.

With the increasing amount of small businesses involved in litigation and

fee disputes with their legal providers, I iss important to give some

thought to alternative courses of actions when dealing with disputes. Ask

your prospective provider about the way in which they settle disputes or

complaints. Do they have an in-house procedure to deal with complaints,

appoint a senior attorney to deal with such things or do you simply have to

settle out of court?

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How to choose an attorney-466

How to choose an attorney?

Throughout the course of your legal problems, you will have to make some

tough decisions – If you were involved in an accident then you have to

choose between bringing criminal damages or press with a plaintiff case, if

you have a small business and you were involved in a deal, then you have to

decide whether to sign it or let it pass. There is no clear-cut answer in

many of these dilemmas, and getting the right lawyer is crucial to you. We

examine the perks of choosing a lawyer in a pre-paid legal plan as opposed

to hiring your own lawyer, and some simple steps you can take to choose a

good attorney.

The number one criterion has to do with a lawyer’s legal ability: someone

who lays the law down for you, present you with options, explain the

ramifications of each decision you make and give you recommendations on the

best course of action. In this day and age of complicated legal matters,

many lawyers are increasingly specialised and you stand to get better

information from someone with a practice focus in a particular area of the

law than a generalist who deals with a broad spectrum of legal issues.

Building rapport is also very important: your relationship with your lawyer

can make or break your case. You need a lawyer who gives you candid advice

and council you can trust, someone with enough perspective to step back

from an issue and look at it from all perspectives.

Client-lawyer relationships are very limited within a pre-paid legal plan.

Because of “preventive” nature of most plans, your contact with your

lawyer will be limited on many occasions. You seldom get to talk to your

lawyer face-to-face – as most of the consultation is done over the phone

– and even when you get to talk to them, it’s difficult to build rapport

when your office consultations are limited to a dozen hours a year.

The good news, however, is you still have some options left. When you sign

up for a legal plan, you get to choose your lawyer and there is a number of

steps you can take to increase the likelihood of getting a good lawyer.

First, you need to ask for referrals from previous clients. Ask around

about good attorneys in the network. Once you get a few names, check their

educational background, their qualifications and their professional track

record with your state’s bar association.

After you receive your referrals, don’t shy away from setting up interviews

with attorneys in the network. Most don’t mind receiving enquiries about

what they do and how able there are. |Ask tough questions: How long have

they been in practice? How satisfied are their previous clients? How many

legal problems of interest to you have they taken recently?

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Who regulates pre-paid legal plans-175

Who regulates pre-paid legal plans?

Pre-paid legal service providers are required to provide either a written

agreement of the services provided in their plans, or at least a written

communication concerning the services covered, together with the fees to

be charged for services not covered in the written agreement of membership.

However, most people gloss over “terms and conditions” and just sign the

agreement assuming they are covered for most legal services. This usually

gives rise to frequent complaints about the service, fee disputes and

complaints about attorneys.

Generally, if you have any complaint with your service, you should first

address any such complaint with your service provider. Contact them to get

information regarding their in-house complaint process and settlement of

disputes. If you are unsatisfied, then it helps to know who regulates your

kind of legal insurance.

Your state’s Department of consumer affairs licenses and regulates all

pre-paid legal plans. Prepaid legal service companies are required to

register with the department prior to commencing business and appoint a

sales representative. Further regulation can be provided by your local bar

association.

Pre-paid legal plans you can get them for free-171

Pre-paid legal plans? You can get them for free!

They say the best things in life are free. In the case of pre-paid legal

plans, this may just hold true.

Pre-paid legal plans offer a range of legal services on-call for a fixed

monthly charge of up to $25 per month. With such a low monthly payment,

most people are only too happy to get a legal coverage they wouldn’t have

otherwise dreamt of in the stultifying, money-grabbing world of lawyers...

But did you know, you could get all of that coverage free of charge?

In a bid to cut on administration costs, employers, labor unions and

universities are now providing legal services at discounted or no cost

altogether to their members. Employers are increasingly sponsoring legal

plans to their employees as a fringe benefit, as part of their Employee

Assistance Program (EAP). Labor unions fund plans offered as member

benefit, or under a collective bargaining scheme, in which case new members

are eligible to huge discounts. Universities are equally as involved with

legal plans offered to students and staff.

Who is involved in legal services-419

Who is involved in Legal services?

When you subscribe to a pre-paid legal service, you are likely to deal

with an attorney and a number of other individuals and organisations who

are involved in one way or another with the service. It’s important to

understand the role of each participating party in a legal service plan,

particularly when you’re unhappy with the service or when fee disputes or

any other litigation with your provider arises.

So, who is involved in your pre-paid legal arrangement?

Your Lawyer

You get to choose your attorney from a pool of attorneys in the network.

Your lawyer is your point of contact for any phone advice or office

consultation. He is the one who furnishes other legal services specified

in your written agreement with your provider: he drafts your will, reviews

simple contracts for you, writes letters on your behalf and makes phone

calls to adverse third parties.

If you are unsatisfied with the quality of work you are getting from your

current attorney in the network then you have the choice of choosing

alternate attorneys. You can also make a complaint to your provider’s

in-house charge of complaints.

If you benefit from legal services under a group plan scheme then there are

a number of parties who are involved in this scheme.

First the contracted firm, just as is the case with an individual plan, is

the one which provides all the legal help through its network of attorneys.

There are also two parties involved in the deal: a plan administrator and a

plan sponsor.

A plan sponsor is the organisation you are member of, which sponsors your

legal plan. Your sponsor can either choose to provide the legal services as

a fringe-benefit, as is the case with most employers, pre-charge for the

service - universities usually charge for any legal service as part of

tuition fees – or charge low-costs, as do trade unions under a

group-bargaining scheme.

Your plan administrator is the person appointed by your sponsor to arrange

for the panel of lawyers from the contracted firm to provide services,

collects all the fees paid into a pre-paid plan, publicizes the plan and

handles enrolment and marketing. The administrator may be a an employee of

the sponsor, an insurance company or an outside firm.

Regulating Authority

Authorities that regulate pre-paid plans provide you with an outline of how

pre-paid legal services are managed and also an outlet in case there are

any complaints.

Individual pre-paid legal plans are generally regulated by your state

department of consumer affairs.

If you are an employee participating in a group plan funded by your

employer, then the legal services are covered and regulated under the

deferral Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

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Benefits of prepaid legal plans-444

Benefits of Pre-paid legal plans

Pre-paid legal services can be a very attractive alternative to hiring a

lawyer for many people. You should consider the importance and relative

priority of these benefits in light of your own legal needs.

So what are the benefits going pre-paid compared to conventional hire of

lawyers?

Benefit Number 1: Cost-Effective

Pre-paid legal plans can take the sting out of hiring a lawyer. Lawyers’

fees are prohibitive for most people: you can run bills of thousands of

dollars and this is simply out of reach of most working and middle-class

families.

With pre-paid plans, what you get charged is more in line with what you

pay for your health or home insurance. Plans start as low as $9 per month

and typically don’t exceed the $30 mark.

Benefit Number 2: Simplicity

There is a number of very complicated set of fees lawyers charge:

contingency fees, flat fees, statutory fees and hourly rates. In the case

of contingency and statutory fees, you have to get into the intricate

details of how these fees are computed – say for a contingency fee how

much is the lawyer’s commission? – and their regulatory nature – who

regulates the statutory fee and how do I know if these fees are in line

with regulatory guidelines?-.

The other two types of fees can be equally as complex. Increasingly,

attorneys choose to incorporate any overheads they incur, like secretarial

expenses, parking charges and travel fees into their flat and hourly fees.

They can also set a minimum number of billing units, like three tenths of

an hour (18 minutes), irrespective of how long it takes them to deal with

your problem.

This is just a sample rundown of what might influence the various fees

charged by lawyers, other factors and arrangements can apply too. Contrast

this with the simplicity in which pre-paid legal services are priced and

furnished. The process is simple and straightforward: you sign an agreement

to pay a fixed monthly fee and that’s about it. If what you’re looking for

is not covered, your plan provider will give you a prior notice of a

different billing so that you know exactly how much you will be charged.

Benefit Number 4: Pre-emptive Law

Pre-paid plans offer unlimited phone consultation and advice. This aspect

of the service can save you a lot of trouble, money and time in the

future. Most legal problems you are likely to face in your day-to-day life

can be solved if you take the necessary steps in line with the law. With

the right advice and consultation with your lawyer, you can detect legal

blunders before they occur and hence minimize the risk of litigation and

protection.

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Benefits of prepaid plans for your company-173

Benefits of Pre-paid legal plan for your company

Employers are on the hunt - researching benefit tools that are low-cost,

easily administered and satisfy their employees’ needs. One such tool is

pre-paid group insurance. We examine the benefits of having such a

work-benefit option from an employer’s perspective.

The first benefit employers expect from legal insurance plans is increased

productivity and efficiency. Today’s employees are interested in a variety

of benefits to balance their work with their life requirements. Given that

most American household had an issue with law last year that might have led

them to hire a lawyer, it’s only normal that a legal benefit would increase

employees’ morale and efficiency.

Having legal benefit as part of a work-benefit package can help the company

recruit and retain the best employees. In this age of work-benefit

hysteria, many prospective employment candidates base their career choices

on the set of benefit package provided by employers.

Cost containment is another benefit. With less time and resources to be

used for personal matters, the company expects to make significant savings

on administrative costs.

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Group legal plans-177

Group legal plans

Group legal plans in the workplace have experienced rapid growth recently

because of their usefulness to both employer and employee alike.

For the employee, a group legal plan is a cheap way to get legal coverage

in much the same way as other traditional benefits. For as little as $20

per month deducted from payroll, an employee is put in touch with an

attorney who can draft his will, buy or refinance a home, adopt a child

and plan an estate. Unlimited legal advice is offered at no cost to the

employee.

The benefits for the employer include increased efficiency and

productivity from their workforce, and reduced administration costs to

handle personal matters. Another very attractive benefit is the very low

cost involved in researching and implementing a group legal plan. In fact,

such plans cost employers very little in terms of time and investment.

Group plans are structured on a voluntary basis, paid for through payroll

deductions from the workforce. Additionally, the carrier handles all the

claims, redundant paperwork and customer service related to the plan.

Differences between pre-paid and legal plans-412

Differences between Pre-Paid and Legal Plans

It is not uncommon to see the terms “legal plans” and “pre-paid legal

services” used interchangeably. While they share a lot of characteristics

in common, there are a number of differences you should be aware of.

Both of these terms refer to an arrangement whereby you pay a fixed monthly

or yearly fee in exchange for legal services. The idea behind them is to

save consumers on high legal fees whilst offering a valuable service.

That’s where the differences lie: what kind of service is offered and what

is covered. What are you entitled to in both schemes?

Pre-paid services cover for specific legal services: free phone

consultation and advice, drafting of simple wills and trusts, review of

sample contracts and writing of letters on your behalf. Legal services not

provided will get charged at regular attorney fees, but you may be eligible

for discounts.

Legal insurance, by contrast, works much like other insurance plans, like

health or car insurance. Although specific legal services are offered at

times, your insurance provider will typically offer a policy that covers

for all legal services. The policy will pay on behalf of you, the policy

holder, or reimburse all expenses, costs or fees that you pay for legal

services up to the policy limit. For instance, your policy might reimburse

any fees incurred in your court judgments or pay your bail money – a

service not provided by most pre-paid legal plans.

Your legal insurance is also pegged to other insurance policies you may

already have. If you run into legal problems involving your other

insurance, then your legal insurance policy will protect you against loss

or liability. For instance, if you are involved in a car accident when your

auto-insurance has already run out and you are subsequently sued for

recovery of damages, you will be protected by a legal plan insurance.

The other difference between the two schemes is related to your choice of

attorney. In a pre-paid legal service, you get to choose from a restricted

number of the attorneys in the network. By contrast, a legal insurance plan

provides legal coverage regardless of attorney. You are free to set up

interviews with any number of attorneys and choose the ones you think will

provide the best service for your personal legal needs.

Finally, pre-paid legal plans are much more accessible to the general

public. Legal plans are harder to come by as only a limited number of

insurance companies offer such arrangements.

Limitations of pre-paid legal services-402

Limitations of Pre-Paid Legal Services

Pre-paid legal plans are promoted under the promise of cheap legal

coverage, an attractive alternative to the high fees charged by regular

attorneys and law practices. But under the gloss of accessible legal

services for the general public, lie a number of limitations.

First, there is a limit on the scope of the legal services provided. Most

of what is provided on an unlimited-basis is phone based: calls to your

attorney for advice and consultation on legal matters, or phone calls made

on your behalf to third parties. Other benefits bundled in the plan are

limited: regular visits to your attorney’s office is restricted to a dozen

or so hours per month, the wills you want drafted or sample contracts

reviewed will be carried out on two or three copies per year. More complex

legal matters involving more time and effort on the part of your attorney

are not provided outright. If you need representation in a court for a

lawsuit on the recovery of damages, or a complex lease contract reviewed

and approved, then you have to pay regular lawyer fees. Some discounts of

up to 25% apply, but you could get the same discounts if not better by

the simple virtue of simple negotiations and clever comparison shopping.

Second is the restriction on your choice of attorney and the quality of

legal work provided. Although you are free to choose your own attorney,

client-lawyer relationship and the building of rapport are harder to come

by in this scheme.

Pre-paid legal plans are fraught with the “rookie” syndrome: the providers

usually resort to employing newly-licensed or trainee attorneys in a

cost-cutting exercise. Someone who does mostly wills, trusts and sample

contracts is probably not a good fit for a more complex legal issue like

the custody of children. In this day of age of increasing specialisation,

it is better to ask someone with specialised knowledge and years of

experience then it is to rely on a novice with a limited professional

track-record.

If you go down the traditional way, then there is restricted “pool of

attorneys” you can choose from. Your research will be easier and a lot

more comprehensive. You can set up interviews with lawyers, ask for

referrals from friends, previous customers or check your local bar

association. You are more likely to get a top-notch lawyer with who to

build rapport get competent advice and trust the judgement.

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Are pre-paid services worth the money-416

Are Pre-paid services worth the money?

You may be covered when it comes to health, life, car or home insurance…

but what about legal coverage?

The question is not if you'll need a lawyer, but when: according to the

American Bar Association (ABA) “Americans have come to view legal

assistance as a necessity”. Yet, most Americans have not used a lawyer

more than once due to the sky high attorney fees – anywhere from $100 to

$1000 per hour – and the trepidation involved in the search for legal

services.

Prepaid legal insurance might just be the answer you have been looking

for. The concept is simple: for a fixed monthly subscription, you get

telephone access to advice from a lawyer. You pay a fixed amount in

advance each month to defray the cost of legal services furnished in the

future. These services span various areas of the law, anywhere from reviews

of simple legal documents and the writing of a simple will to more

comprehensive coverage of trials, divorce, bankruptcy and real estate

issues.

Pre-paid legal coverage is a very attractive proposition for people who

don’t have the resources to retain a lawyer on a regular basis whenever

they need assistance. You effectively have a network of attorneys you can

use as retainer to seek preliminary advice about what the issues are and

how the procedures work whenever legal matters arise. Services not covered

by the plan are available to members for a discount on regular hourly rates

or flat fees.

A hard fact, however, is that more than half of new subscribers drop out of

a prepaid

plan after their first year. One reason could be that many members do not

require any legal assistance during their first year, so opt out. Another

reason is the scope of services offered, which are very basic and limited

in nature. Most plans have certain caps or maximums as far as benefits

provided are concerned, and purport to offer discount on standard attorney

fees instead. However, by virtue of simply calling around by yourself you

could probably negotiate a lower rate.

Another problem with pre-paid legal plans is the likelihood of getting

assigned to a novice attorney. Because of cost considerations, many of the

companies behind per-paid services assign trainee or inexperienced

attorneys to handle phone consultation and drafting of simple legal

documents. You are also less likely to build rapport and understanding,

two of the most important attributes of choosing a good attorney, as over

90% of the work is done over the phone.

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Prepaid and small business-170

Prepaid and Small Business

Legal advice for small businesses does not have to be expensive. With

pre-paid legal plans, a wide array of legal services designed specifically

to cater for the needs of small businesses is available for a set yearly

fee ranging from $125 to $300.

Although coverage differs across the board, most pre-paid plans offer

unlimited telephone consultation with a lawyer, a valuable service that is

enough to solve many small-business matters. This encourages

“preventive law”: the process whereby you identify legal problems that

affect your business, contact your lawyer and get advice on taking steps to

minimize them.

Basic plans provide coverage for simple contracts and the drafting of

simple legal documents, like a power of attorney or a bill of sale. More

comprehensive plans will deal with more elaborate matters like equipment

lease and accounts-receivable collection work.

If you are a member of a local chamber of commerce, trade or professional

group than you can get a plan at a reduced group rate. Otherwise, buy

directly from a commercial vendor.

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Legal plans an intro-182

Legal plans: An Intro

What if you could pick up the phone and call an attorney to get advice

about any and all legal matters of interest to you? The attorney would

draft your will, review it and update it for every other year, make phone

calls and write letters on your behalf negotiate your contracts and

represent you in court. If you are traveling in another state and need any

form of legal advice, he will refer you to a competent attorney in that

state for no extra cost to you.

This all seems great on paper, but the mere thought of paying hundreds of

dollars an hour to put an attorney on retainer is enough to persuade most

people not to seek legal coverage.

You will be surprised to know that such coverage does indeed exist under

an arrangement similar to your health or insurance plan. Pre-paid legal

plans offer you access to all these legal services, for a monthly charge

of $10 to $25. If you are employed, you may incur no charge if your

employer provides legal services as a fringe benefit.

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Types of prepaid legal services-175

Types of Prepaid Legal Services

Over 100 million Americans are signed up for pre-paid legal services. Also

called legal insurance, these plans are similar to those provided by Health

Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and cover the legal needs of the member,

spouse and any dependent children.

In a prepaid legal service plan, the customer pays a fixed monthly

subscription fee of up to $25 for the services of pre-selected lawyers.

The most basic plans provide advice and consultation by telephone. Plan

members receive a few hours of free office consultation with their assigned

attorney. They may also include review and advice on simple legal documents,

preparation, drafting or an update of a simple will. Phone calls and letters

can be written on behalf of members, a service helpful for credit problems

and consumer protection.

More comprehensive plans cover clients’ personal legal needs ranging from

services that require more time and effort on the part of your attorney,

such as contracts, wills and deeds, to legal representation in negotiations

and courts cases related to family matters, bankruptcy and real estate

issues.

Look before you take the leap into pre-paid legal services-452

Look before you take the leap into pre-paid legal services

Choosing a pre-paid legal plan is a good way to save big bucks, but

choosing a plan you need and a provider you can trust is a different

matter. Here is a number of things to look for in a legal plan from the

very start:

Look for what’s covered: Legal plans are offered in different models and

differ in the specifics of what they cover. While phone consultation and

simple drafting and reviewing of simple contracts are included across the

board, more elaborate and complicated legal matters are not covered.

It’s best to review your own legal needs before you choose a legal plan.

Ask which legal services will you need most and then choose a plan that

provides the best coverage given those needs. For instance, if you are a

business owner, lawsuits, lease and contract negotiations could be high on

your list and you would be looking for a legal plan that provides coverage

accordingly.

Know what legal coverage you already have Don’t pay for coverage twice! If

you have car insurance, then you are covered for liability and medical

protection, home insurance covers you for injuries sustained on your

property… Your existing insurance policies already cover some of your

legal costs and there is no need to pay for that coverage when you select

with a legal plan.

Does the company have an in-house procedure to handle complaints? One of

the stumbling blocks of pre-paid legal services is quality of service.

Newly-licensed attorneys, phone calls not getting answered and that

ointment on any client – lawyer relationship: fee disputes, typically

involving bills made to your credit car to cover for services not included

in your contract… This is just a specimen of the many problems people face

with their plan providers.

Make sure you select a plan that has clear guidelines as to how to settle

dispute when they arise. A company that has a good in-house mechanism to

handle complaints will generally assign a senior attorney with the

authority to handle customer complaints of and disputes with any attorneys

in the network. Secondary sources of resolution may include your state

insurance department or bar association. Check their outlet for complaints

against pre-paid services.

Checking out the business you’ll need to do some homework before you

select your legal provider. Ask these questions: What’s the firm’s

reputation in my area? How many years have they been in business? Have they

been operating in my local area for at least a year without complaints? How

skilled are they attorneys? Do they cover the locale where my business

operates? Some good places to start your background research are your state

bar association, the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Affairs

Office.

Prepaid promotes preventive law-200

Pre-paid legal plans promote preventive law.

Many people believe they need the services of a lawyer, under a pre-paid

legal service scheme, to solve a legal problem or resolve an intricate

situation. Often, your lawyer’s most valuable help could be before you

get involved in legal trouble.

When you sign up for a pre-paid legal plan, you have the right to unlimited

toll-free telephone access to your attorney. The sound advice and

consultation given to you by your lawyer will help you take the necessary

steps to detect and resolve any potential legal problems before they take

more dangerous proportions. This is called in legal jargon “therapeutic

jurisprudence” or “preventive law”. Just as preventive medicine helps

prevent disease by detecting their symptoms, preventive law helps prevent

serious legal consequences by detecting early problems. In an increasingly

litigious society, there is real concern that assets you have worked long

and hard to accumulate may be attacked by creditors and litigants, through

no fault of your own. By the time a potential claim or liability is

identified, it is too late to act.

A competent attorney’s advice is your best option to minimize your exposure

to potential risks and protect yourself from legal problems getting out of

hand.

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Look before you take the leap into pre-paid legal services-416

Look before you take the leap into pre-paid legal services

These are some of the question you should ask if you are considering a

pre-paid legal plan.

What is covered? Legal plans are offered in different models and differ in

the specifics of what they cover. While phone consultation and simple

drafting and reviewing of simple contracts are included across the board,

more elaborate and complicated legal matters are not covered.

It’s best to review your own legal needs before you choose a legal plan.

Ask which legal services will you need most and then choose a plan that

provides the best coverage given those needs. For instance, if you are a

business owner, lawsuits, lease and contract negotiations could be high on

your list and you would be looking for a legal plan that provides coverage

accordingly.

What legal coverage do I already have? Don’t pay for coverage twice! If

you

have car insurance, then you are covered for liability and medical

protection, home insurance covers you for injuries sustained on your

property… Your existing insurance policies already cover some of your

legal costs and there is no need to pay for that coverage when you select

with a legal plan.

Does the company have an in-house procedure to handle complaints? One of

the stumbling blocks of pre-paid legal services is quality of service.

Newly-licensed attorneys, phone calls not getting answered and that

ointment on any client – lawyer relationship: fee disputes, typically

involving bills made to your credit car to cover for services not included

in your contract… This is just a specimen of the many problems people face

with their plan providers.

Make sure you select a plan that has clear guidelines as to how to settle

dispute when they arise. A company that has a good in-house mechanism to

handle complaints will generally assign a senior attorney with the

authority to handle customer complaints of and disputes with any attorneys

in the network. Secondary sources of resolution may include your state

insurance department or bar association. Check their outlet for complaints

against pre-paid services.

What is the quality of the work they provide? You’ll need to do some

homework before you select your legal provider. Ask these questions:

What’s the firm’s reputation in my area? How many years have they been

in business? Have they been operating in my local area for at least a year

without complaints? How skilled are they attorneys? Do they cover the

locale where my business operates? Some good places to start your

background research are your state bar association, the Better Business

Bureau and the Consumer Affairs Office.

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Why you need legal help-415

Why you need legal help

We are likely to need legal help at least once a year, yet most of us do

not actively seek legal help.

This is borne out of data from a survey

conducted by Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, on behalf of the American Bar

Association’s Section of Litigation, which shows that close to three

quarters of American adults experience some event during a twelve-month

period that may require the services of a lawyer. Over half of those who

needed an attorney chose not to hire one, and close to 80% of those yet to

experience legal problems gave strong indications they might go down the

same route.

Why all the doom and gloom? Price is the most sticking point

for most consumers. When it comes to hiring a lawyer, hourly fees of $100

up to $1000 are out of reach of most people’s budget. And then comes the

trepidation of searching for a good attorney and the right service: there

is a lot of uncertainty and confusion as what a lawyer will do, and how to

tell the good from the bad.

A legal plan may solve these problems and change the way you think of legal

services. Thanks to this arrangement, you can now talk to a lawyer whenever

you have a problem, without fear this will leave you out of pocket. In

fact, you don’t even need to be embroiled in a legal problem to get legal

advice: just pick up the phone, call your attorney and get the necessary

legal advice susceptible of resolving any potential problems – with

professional legal advice and follow-up, you can prevent ninety percent of

your legal questions becoming legal problems. Basic services such as the

drafting of your will, review of sample health contracts and writing

letters on your behalf are handled at no cost to you. If you want further

coverage to include family problems, such as a divorce or custody of

children, and any legal representation in court, then you simply pay a

premium and get more inclusive coverage.

Even if your plan doesn’t cover complex legal matters, it can still save

you money on those sky-high attorney fees. Discounts of up to 20% are

offered on hourly and flat rates. Ultimately, it’s not all down to how much

you can save. Having an attorney readily available at all times gives you

peace of mind, in the knowledge that there is someone you can use on

retainer for advice and help on anything of legal nature.

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The access legal plan-175

The access legal plan

Pre-paid legal plans come in a variety of types depending on the scope of

legal coverage they provide.

The most basic pre-paid plan is designed to make the simple legal services

readily available to the general public at low cost. These plans typically

cost between $10 and $30 per month, billed in advance.

You get unrestricted toll-free number telephone access to a lawyer for

legal advice and consultation. You can also make brief office consultations

to talk to your lawyer about any legal problems you may be encountering.

Your lawyer can also write to letters or make phone calls on your behalf.

This can help resolve many problems before they escalate further.

Other services provided are not overly time-consuming: the drafting of your

will to distribute your property after your death, review of your trust and

any other simple legal document.

If you require any other service beyond the scope of a basic plan, then you

can either pay discounts on regular lawyer fees or pay a premium to upgrade

to a more comprehensive plan.

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How to enrol for a legal plan-178

How to enrol for a legal plan?

Are you thinking of getting on the pre-paid bandwagon? Choosing a

particular enrolment method can be very important in determining the

benefits, costs and conditions of coverage of your legal plan.

A voluntary enrolment refers to a membership of a legal plan where people

“voluntarily” subscribe to a pre-paid legal service in response to a direct

email offer, during an employer’s open enrolment period or during

individual sales representations. In this arrangement, you pay the prepaid

charge, get the standard discounts open to all other members of the plan

and get the coverage as per the terms and conditions of the plan.

In a group plan, all members are automatically included in the plan because

of their status as a group. For instance, many employees enjoy a 100%

participation in legal plans sponsored by their employers. They do not have

to pay any pre-paid charge or premium, as legal coverage in the work place

is now regarded as an employee fringe-benefit.

Some universities also provide legal coverage for their students, financing

the plans from their general tuition fees.

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Group legal plans benefits for employer and employee-183

Group Legal plans benefits for employer and employee

A properly developed group legal insurance plan can be the perfect

complement to any employer’s work life initiative. Considering that many

employees are nowadays increasingly swayed by benefit options when making

career decisions, Legal insurance is a viable product for many employers.

However, there is no single fit-for-all group legal plan for all

organizations. For a start, each organization has a distinct list of

requirements when contracting for legal insurance. A requirement built on

the premise of reduced administrative costs will require a different set

of legal services than requirements built on enhancing a benefits package

or protect against liability.

Legal plans also vary in what they offer: the quality of their customer

service, flexibility of plan design and finally the experience and

professional track record of their panel of attorneys.

In order to minimize the risk of poor service and plummeting employer

satisfaction, an employer should conduct both requirements analysis

amongst its employee base to cover for their difference needs, and a due

research to select the most appropriate legal plan to fit those

requirements based on experience, integrity and track record.

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Types of legal plans-390

Types of Legal Plans

A prepaid legal plan is a scheme based on the payment in advance of a set

fee to defray the cost of providing future legal services to the members

enrolled in the scheme. They vary in cost, scope of legal coverage provided

and how the legal services are provided. We will look at the different

types of pre-paid legal plans available in the United States and how to

enrol into them

An individual pre-paid legal plan is readily accessible to the general

public. There are two types of individual plans: access and comprehensive.

An access pre-paid legal plan is the most basic plan. It is designed to

give easy access to lawyer and a set of simple legal services for a low

cost. Basic services furnished include unlimited toll-free phone access to

your attorney for consultation and advice, letters written by the lawyer on

your behalf, brief office consultation and the drafting or review of simple

legal documents.

Complex legal issues not covered will be subject to an hourly or flat rate

negotiatable with your provider

The comprehensive plan goes beyond basic legal services, to offer more

complex and comprehensive coverage for a premium in cost. Generally, all

the benefits of an access plan are provided at no cost to you, plus a

broader range of services like drafting complicated legal documents,

negotiations with adverse parties, legal representation in court cases such

as divorce and child custody. They also cover all the costs involved in a

legal litigation. Comprehensive plans typically start at $300 per year and

are most beneficial to middle-class families.

A group legal plan is typically sponsored by an organization as a fringe

benefit to its members. The lawyer or law firm contracted provides free or

low-cost legal coverage to all members of the sponsoring organization.

Employers, labour unions and even universities are now increasingly

offering group legal plans to enhance the value of their benefits package

and reduce the cost of administrative burden. Law firms are contracted to

provide participating members telephone and office consultation for their

most frequently needed legal matters. These typically include: Preparation

of wills and trusts, document preparation and review, debt and real estate

matters and family law.

Additional legal coverage can be contracted according to a fee schedule

negotiable between the plan sponsor and provider, and publicised to

participating members.

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Common services offered by pre-paid legal plans-420

Common Services offered by Pre-paid legal Plans

Considering a pre-paid legal plan? He’s a run-down of the services

you’re most likely to get and also some legal documents you need to sign

before you enrol.

Telephone and Office Consultation: You have unlimited telephone access to

a panel of attorneys regarding any legal matter of interest to you. You

can also make brief consultation visits to your lawyer for up to 30

minutes per day at no cost to you.

The only condition placed on these two benefits is that you enquire about

a different legal matter.

This aspect of coverage provided by legal plans is one of the most

beneficial because it promotes preventive law. Preventive law is very much

like preventive medicine – it helps in anticipating potential problems and

taking the appropriate legal steps so that unnecessary legal problems or

risks are avoided. With a simple phone call to your lawyer you can avoid

getting embroiled in a hellish legal situation, and you can even identify

legal rights you don’t even know you had.

Follow-Up Service: The panel of lawyers will write letters and make phone

calls on your behalf to adverse third parties. Such follow-up service may

be all it takes to solve many of your legal problems.

Legal document review: Simple personal legal documents, such as your

insurance policies, sales contracts and leases will be reviewed. Any

questions of legal nature that you have about the documents will also get

answered by your attorney.

Drafting of wills: A will is a written document that regulates how you want

your property distributed after your death. Your attorney will draft your

will according to your state’s laws so that it’s valid when you die. He

will also advise you on any provisions you might want to consider, such as

appointing a guardian and establishing a trust.

Discount on regular fees: Any additional services not covered in the

written fee agreement will be at regular fees – either hourly or flat –

with a discount between 20 to 30%. These services generally include family

matters, such as divorce and the custody of children, and court

representation, such as traffic tickets and lawsuits.

Some of the legal paperwork you need to read carefully, agree on and sign

include the following:

Written fee agreement: This is an agreement that outlines what services are

provided in the plan, how much it costs and the methods of payment.

Grievance procedure: This document details the procedures that will be

taken by the provide to resolve any complaints about attorneys or disputes

regarding service fees.

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Pre-paid legal are you really going to use it-417

Pre-paid legal: Are you really going to use it?

Are you enrolled in a pre-paid legal plan and worried your provider is

simply tallying up your tab for a service you’ll never get to use? Read on

as we explain the chances of using pre-paid legal services in legal

challenges you may be faced with.

In their lifetime, people are most likely to use legal services that fall

into four categories: civil defence, civil plaintiffs, criminal defence and

legal help that involves a variety of transactional or business law.

Your liability insurances already covers you for the legal pertaining to

civil defence. Your insurer hires the lawyer who will defend you and have

every incentive to defend your well since they are the ones who bear your

legal costs irrespective of the final outcome. In that respect, you already

have “pre-paid legal coverage” in place and a legal plan wouldn’t add much

to the coverage.

Civil plaintiff attorneys in the Unites States work on a “no win no fee”

basis. This means that they will not charge you unless they win you damages

in an insurance claim or lawsuit against someone who caused you physical

injury. Their contingency fees are calculated as a “commission” on any

money won, so there is every incentive for your plaintiff lawyer to defend

you and defend you well: the more you win, the more he wins. There is no

need to pre-pay for a service where you stand to lose nothing, and where

advice is readily available to you from plaintiff lawyers eager to work on

your case.

On the rare occasion you need to bring criminal charges if you’re involved

in a serious accident or defend yourself against criminal charges brought

against you, lining up a lawyer to represent you in advance is not the best

of decisions. In these situations, client-lawyer rapport is crucial: you

need someone whom you trust, build a rapport with and competent enough to

defend you in a court of law. You rarely get the chance to talk to your

attorney face-to-face in a pre-paid legal plan, and most of the attorneys

in the network do not do criminal defence work.

Transactional and business law is the area where you will most probably

find pre-paid legal services most effective. If you frequently need to

someone to draft your wills, review simple contracts and set up advance

health-directives or simply want competent legal advice at your disposal,

then going pre-paid will save you the trouble of searching for an attorney

and paying “a la carte”.

Comprehensive access plan-168

Comprehensive access plans

If you are a member of a pre-paid access plan and are not getting the legal

services you think you need, then it is probably time to upgrade to a more

comprehensive plan.

A comprehensive prepaid legal service plan is designed to cover for the

majority of your legal service needs in a given year. Access services, such

as legal advice and information by toll-free number and follow-up service,

are provided at no cost to you. It’s in the realm of more complex legal

matters that require more time and effort from your attorney, that the

comprehensive plan is more beneficial than a basic, access plan. You can

have your trust set up, instead of a simple will, and a more complicated

business sale contract drawn up as opposed to a simple contract. Legal

representation can equally be provided in court for some cases, such as

child custody.

Comprehensive prepaid plans are most suitable for people who need business

advice, have family trusts or own real estates properties.

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