If your company is thinking about offering legal benefits to your employees, it’s natural to wonder if group legal plans are worthwhile. The short answer is that, if an employee has coverage and needs legal representation, then he or she will almost certainly answer with a resounding “yes.” And, if an employee has coverage but hasn’t needed representation yet, it is still providing him or her with peace of mind, and it’s hard to put a price on that.
Group legal services are so valuable that they are expected to be part of a benefits package in Europe. In the United States, they were first offered in the late 1970s and have been considered mainstream options since the 1990s. And now, because of COVID, many of the benefits provided by a group legal plan are more valuable than ever before.
That, at least, is the short answer. Now, here is a more in-depth response to the question, from the perspectives of both employees and employers.
Benefits of Group Legal Services for Employees
One of the main reasons people don’t use attorneys is the expense. And yet, a percentage of your company’s employees will almost surely face legal challenges over the next year, whether because of financial challenges, family issues, or something else entirely. What happens if, say, someone’s taxes are audited or someone is facing a foreclosure because of unforeseen financial difficulties? What if an employee is suddenly faced with a child custody issue? Unpaid traffic tickets? A need to do estate planning? A group legal plan allows affected employees to address these stressful issues with quality representation.
Having ready access to legal services also helps employees to overcome the sense of being intimidated by the thought of contacting a lawyer. This means they will likely contact an attorney more quickly, which is step one for promptly resolving legal issues.
Legal Insurance During COVID-19
These really are unprecedented times and, at U.S. Legal Services, we’ve noticed an increasing demand for several types of legal services during COVID. These include:
- Chapter 7 & 13 bankruptcy services: Knowing that they can have legal help while navigating the intricacies of bankruptcy filings can help employees to focus on doing their jobs, not on having to worry about talking to bill collectors during working hours.
- Foreclosure help: Our legal insurance plans can help guide families towards making the right decisions during a time that can feel quite emotional. This can mean keeping their home or vacating it in a way that has the smallest financial impact.
- Landlord/tenant issues: Tenants can benefit through repayment negotiations for past due rent and/or receive help with eviction issues. Yes, the CDC has issued an eviction moratorium, but that’s only through the end of 2020 and appropriate documentation still must be provided.
- Estate planning: This isn’t just for people with significant assets. Virtually everyone should have basic estate planning documents drawn up, including a last will and testament; a living will; financial and health care powers of attorneys; and, in some cases, a simple trust. These documents will help your family to know your wishes for end of life care and how you want assets to ultimately be dispersed, as just two examples.
- Family law issues: From child support payments to spousal support, plenty of people aren’t able to meet their monthly obligations because of a job loss or reduction in income—and will need help with renegotions. Other people who rely upon receiving child support may need help with collecting their money or making modifications in agreements.
Group legal plans can give employees access to these in-demand services and much more.
Additional Legal Insurance Services
Besides the Chapter 7 & 13 bankruptcy services, foreclosure help, tenant assistance, estate planning services, and family law services described above, U.S. Legal Services also offers assistance with:
- Real estate transactions
- Traffic violations
- Civil actions
- Criminal violations
- Personal injuries
- Juvenile defense
- Identity theft protection
Here’s a more in-depth look at just a few of these.
Real Estate Transactions
The reality is that real estate transactions, such as buying or selling a home, are often the biggest financial transactions that people go through. Yes, there are real estate agents to help, but they aren’t permitted to give legal advice and that’s sometimes crucial to obtain. Plus, having an experienced attorney at your side while making a large purchase (or sale) can be reassuring and provide peace of mind that you’re taking all the right steps.
Here are just a couple of examples. If you’re buying a home, it’s possible that it will end up having more structural issues or otherwise be in poorer condition than it seemed. It may be that the seller didn’t disclose everything that they should. If a real estate attorney had been involved, he or she may well have included a contractual clause that gives you, as buyer, the ability to cancel the agreement if an inspection reveals these flaws.
What if you’re a seller? Well, you may have done everything right after a purchase agreement was signed with a buyer—and then they suddenly back out for no stated reason. An attorney could have added a clause that protects you in this type of circumstance. Here’s more about how a group legal plan can help with real estate transactions and other finance-related matters. (And, here’s more!)
More About Family Law
We’d noted the increasing demand for family law services during COVID, using child support and spousal support as examples. Family law is much broader than that, though, also including prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements (here are legal services that newlyweds can need), paternity issues, adoption proceedings, child custody issues, child emancipation proceedings, divorce, and more.
When hiring an attorney without the help of legal insurance, hourly rates can start at $50 per hour and go up to $1,000 per hour, and even more! Where you live can make a difference, with attorneys in larger cities often charging more than those in small rural areas. Some attorneys require a retainer, paid up front, perhaps $2,000 for an attorney who charges $500 hourly. Contrast that with being a member of a group legal plan where fees are covered, and you can quickly and easily see the benefits of coverage. Here’s more information about having access to a family law attorney.
How much a ticket might cost you depends upon a variety of variables, including something called a “presumed speed limit law.” This means that you could be driving the posted speed limit, yet law enforcement could determine that this speed was unsafe for the road conditions.
Other issues can include the amount your car insurance would go up after a speeding ticket; whether the speed would qualify for a reckless driving offense or highway racing; whether automatic speed cameras were in use; whether an “aggressive driving” charge could include extra penalties; and how much a ticket would contribute to a driver’s license suspension.
What these figures are will depend upon where you live, with some states having stricter laws; other, less so. Plus, here are some costs associated with traffic tickets that you might not think about:
- Life insurance rates: If a driving record is poor, then you could be placed in a life insurance tier that’s less favorable—which in turn can cost you thousands of extra dollars over the life of your policy.
- License suspension costs: If your license gets suspended, then you will still need to continue to pay any car payments and insurance payments that are owed, and then you’ll need to find other ways to get where you need to go. This could include Uber or Lyft costs, for example. Besides any fines associated with the suspension, there could be costs with the impounding of your vehicle, court costs, and more.
Here’s more about legal issues associated with traffic violations.
If you’re the victim of a personal injury—whether it’s from a traffic or workplace accident, a defective product, or something else—then you may well need the services of a personal injury attorney. These types of cases involve an injury caused by neglect or the result of someone else’s actions, and a consultation and an attorney could help you discover if you could potentially receive compensation. The attorney can also help you to seek fair compensation, usually in one of these ways:
- A settlement
- Filing a lawsuit
In a settlement, an attorney can contact the other party and work with insurance companies (and perhaps attorneys representing the other party) to come to a satisfactory solution. You could then sign documents approving the negotiated settlement, which could conclude the process without needing to go to court.
If parties can’t come to an agreement, then your attorney may recommend mediation or arbitration. In this scenario, a neutral third party listens to both sides and makes a decision that both parties must agree to. This solution can be much more effective at a lower cost. Arbitrators can have greater flexibility in making decisions and often have niche specialties that can be quite helpful in making their decisions.
Or, a case can go to court, where your attorney would need to present facts about your injuries and the fault of the plaintiff. Here is more about personal injury law.
Identity Theft Protection
If you become an identity theft victim, it can have a serious impact on your credit scores, which in turn can make it challenging when you want to buy a home or car, or apply for a credit card—or even rent an apartment. Then there’s tax return fraud, which could cause you to not receive the money owed to you. As part of identity theft, someone can post negative information on your social media channels, damaging personal relationships and your reputation.
There are certain stages of life where you can be especially vulnerable to identity theft. Here are some of them.
Benefits of Group Legal Services for Employers
As an employer, you want your employees to be focused on their jobs, but the stress of legal problems can cause distractions—and if the employee can’t pay for effective representation or is too intimidated to contact attorneys, the stress will only worsen. We blogged about how the stress of an employee’s divorce can affect the workplace—and family-related and financial stressors can exist in numerous other situations beside divorce
One survey showed the following employee responses to stress:
- 41 percent noted that productivity levels drop
- One third of them share that they feel less engaged at work
- 15 percent say that they look for new jobs because of stress
- 10 percent-plus have higher rates of absenteeism
The result? Employee stress costs companies literally billions of dollars. So, helping your employees to navigate stress over legal matters is a win-win situation.
And, when an employee can resolve a legal issue, thanks to having access to affordable legal representation through workplace benefits, this will often help to strengthen employee loyalty to your company. Here’s more on that subject.
Optimizing Your Employee Benefit Portfolio
When recruiting and retaining quality employees, having an in-demand benefits package can go a long way, and that includes voluntary benefits such as legal insurance. As the Society for Human Resource Management puts it, companies are now “shifting voluntary and supplemental benefits into a more prominent, strategic role to attract and keep employees.”
Voluntary benefits in your portfolio allow your employees to enjoy meaningful choices, and can help to meet the needs of a diverse workforce, including “generational, cultural or economic” diversity. In other words, in contrast to the one-size-fits-all benefits packages of the past, having a menu of choices allows workplaces to meet more employees’ needs, helping them with their financial well-being and overall satisfaction.
U.S. Legal Services Offers Comprehensive Legal Insurance Plans
Here is what one plan member has to say about our Family Defender plan: “The attorney was an incredibly caring, knowledgeable and detailed attorney that I have now referred several friends and colleagues to as well … Not only would I never consider joining a different legal plan, I have convinced several of my colleagues to switch their enrollment to U.S. Legal Services.”
And here is what an attorney has to say about U.S. Legal Services: “Keep up the good work! I told RH on the phone earlier that of all the plans I work with, U.S. Legal is the best as far as responsiveness, provider relations services. You are all available when there is an issue or question.”