“One of the things we learned very early on in providing legal plans was that we needed to do everything possible to make it easy to access the lawyer and that people needed basically hand-holding to get through the process,” says Brooks, CEO of Hyatt Legal Plans, a MetLife company.
With about 100 employees, Hyatt Legal Plans offers affordable legal access to more than 5 million group legal plan members and addresses a common disconnect.
Recent studies from the American Bar Association show that seven out of 10 U.S. households encountered a legal issue in the past year. But one-third of all households, when faced with those problems, didn’t hire a lawyer usually citing expense as the reason.
Group legal plans can bridge that gap and can also benefit your business.
Smart Business spoke to Brooks about giving your benefits package the edge with a group legal plan.What is a group legal plan?
A group legal plan is a way to get affordable access to legal care.
People are afraid of lawyers, they don’t like lawyers, they’re intimidated by the process, and most importantly, they really don’t know how to find a lawyer or at least find the right lawyer who can help them with their type of problem.
First and foremost, what a group legal plan does is solve that problem. Namely, we find the lawyer for you. A large part of our business is to understand what a legal plan member’s needs are and match them to the law firm on our panel that can help them and that can help them conveniently. We find a lawyer who not only will do good legal work but who will treat them well.
That’s part one the access that a group legal plan provides. But I also mentioned affordable. One of the key reasons people don’t seek advice from the legal profession is their fear of the cost. A group legal plan is a way for people essentially to purchase legal services at a rate that they could never do on their own because they can harness the group purchasing power through a group employee benefit.
Typically, our programs would be $200 a year or less, and for that, you could easily obtain hundreds of dollars of legal services if you need them. A common plan might be one that’s $18 a month and that would be collected through payroll deduction. And then the employee can use the legal plan really without limitation. We’ve gotten rid of pretty much all of the red tape you can think of we have no waiting periods, no deductibles, no co-payments, no limits on usage, no claim forms. Basically if you’re in a legal plan, any benefit that is covered under the plan you can use as often as you want and it’s covered completely from beginning to end, no matter how long it takes.What differentiates a group legal plan from an attorney referral network?
The key difference is that in a group legal plan, you have somebody who has prequalified all the law firms on the panel and can ensure that they’re the right lawyers for you to go see, No. 1, and No. 2, can also ensure that they provide excellent service to you.
In contrast, referral networks are typically … a vehicle for lawyers to advertise. Those attorneys have not qualified to be on that list at all, other than paying money to be on it. There’s no selection process, there’s no qualification, and most importantly, there’s no supervision. You go to whatever lawyer you find on the list and you’re on your own.
When you call our client service center, you get a real person. There’s no phone trees or ‘Push 1 for this; push 2 for that.’ The phone is answered, on average, in less than five seconds. So we do everything we can to make the experience of dealing with a legal problem one that’s hassle-free and easy.
They’ll start with a description of how the plan works and they’ll just ask a few questions about the nature of their matter and then also get some information about where they live and work in terms of what law firms will be convenient for them to go to. Then they’ll help them select a law firm to call from our panel of providers.
After we answer whatever questions they may have about things like, ‘What’s covered? What services will be provided? What’s the background of the lawyer?’ the last thing we always tell them is, ‘My name is Bill. If you have any problems whatsoever, just call me right back.’ And that’s important.
About one in 1,000 do call back with some kind of a concern or problem. That’s a very important feedback loop for us first of all, to solve the problem that anybody may encounter. Then secondly, that’s a terrific quality control for us in terms of the lawyers on the panel.
That would be a good example of the radical difference between a legal plan and a simple referral network. In the rare occasion that you might encounter some concern, you have somebody on your side that’s going to fix it right away and someone who has quite a bit of leverage over the lawyers.How should I decide whether a group legal plan is right for my company?
Any employer and any employee group can benefit from a group legal plan. The legal plan benefit is very broad in terms of its appeal, so there’s really no profile or particular demographic of employees that can benefit from it.
Two of our biggest sponsors are JPMorgan Chase and Target. JPMorgan Chase, I think it would be fair to say, has a typically higher income employee base than Target. And, yet, both of them have very popular and successful legal plan offerings. What does vary a little bit is what people use the legal plan for. The higher income groups might use the plan more for buying and selling homes, getting wills, doing estate planning. The lower income groups might be using the legal plan more for debt problems, advice on leases, things of that nature.
While the nature of the legal issues being addressed might vary from one employer group to another, the usage rates do not really vary much. In the end, there’s something in there for everybody.
But whether or not they should offer a group legal plan is dependent upon the state of development of their benefit program, generally. Companies once upon a time had only employer-paid benefits, and then they began to shift some of that cost to employees. Then they looked for what other options could they offer since they had the infrastructure for their benefit program set up in terms of how enrollment works and all the communications materials and so on. Then it made sense to offer employees as many choices as they can. That’s when things like auto and home insurance and legal plans and critical illness really started to take off.
For any employer who has an established employee benefit program, especially one that includes options for employee-paid benefits, they should have a legal plan.
In contrast, smaller employers might not really have much in the way of employee benefits. They’ll have life insurance and health insurance and maybe disability insurance and probably employer-paid. They probably need to pay more attention to their benefit program generally and have it evolve to offering not just legal plans but lots of voluntary benefits: critical illness insurance, auto insurance, home insurance, dental insurance.How can a group legal plan benefit my business?
In terms of your benefit package being something that attracts and reta ins the best employees, you don’t really gain much competitive value from the basic core benefits since all employers are offering them. It’s the employers that do more than offer just life insurance and health insurance that really add value to their benefits program in terms of attracting and retaining the best employees.
There’s also a lot of evidence lately that employers are now talking a lot about how having a benefit like a legal plan improves employee productivity. One finding was that 84 percent of employers now report that employee productivity is a very important benefits objective.
So there’s been much more focus recently on that aspect, from the employer’s point of view, that I’m going to offer this legal plan not just because I don’t have to pay for it, No. 1, so that’s nice. The employee pays for it. It makes my benefit program more competitive, so that’s nice. But now they’re also talking about if people have easy, affordable access to help, they’re more productive at work. In these economic times, this seems to be really coming into focus.
Years ago when we were selling legal plans to employers, we’d say, ‘If your people had access to legal care, they’d be less distracted. They would miss less work because they wouldn’t have to take time off to go see a lawyer or go find a lawyer or be worried about their foreclosure or their divorce if they knew they had somebody helping them out.’ I think it’s finally starting to hit home to employers.
How to reach: Hyatt Legal Plans, (800) 423-0300 or www.legalplans.com