As a result, employees miss work and are distracted by legal concerns. To help employees cope with the most common legal needs, many larger employers are offering discount legal services as part of their benefits package.
"Unlike health care, where employees like to go to their own doctor, for a legal plan, most employees don't have their own lawyer," says Bill Brooks, CEO of Cleveland-based Hyatt Legal Plans. "First and foremost what a prepaid legal plan solves is that question of how to find a lawyer."
Studies show that the average family has one or two legal problems per year, but that lawyers are seldom consulted because they don't know how to find them, concerns about cost or they just don't like lawyers.
Legal plans are meant to tear down these barriers. A legal plan provides access to an approved attorney whose work is guaranteed and is expected to treat you well. The plan provider, giving participants a set annual fee, controls the costs.
"Most people join a legal plan because they have some need to see a lawyer or they anticipate that need," says Brooks. "They might be buying a house, creating a will or be having debt problems."
Group programs harness the power of mass-purchasing power to get costs that are below what a person would pay walking in off the street. A basic comprehensive program can cost as little as $200 per year for the employee -- a price that might not even cover the cost of a will, and there are no limits on usage. The plans are designed to handle the most common legal needs, such as traffic citations, divorce, debt problems or wills, from beginning to end.
"From the employer perspective, their employees are going to have legal problems," says Brooks. "If they have a place to turn to solve them easily, then it's a good thing for the employees. If it's good for the employees, then it's good for the employer. They can focus on work and know they have a lawyer taking care of their debt problems or whatever they need help with."