I’m a huge proponent of legal service plans, especially for small business owners. They help keep legal costs way down, provide ready access to key legal advice, and encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs to seek advice in situations where they would normally try to “figure it out” on their own. I’m also a big supporter of seeing both sides of an issue, and I firmly believe that you can’t fully appreciate how well something works until you understand why some find it lacking. Thus, let’s consider the five most common complaints about investing in a monthly legal plan membership I’ve heard from business owners and professionals.
“I’ve Never Needed an Attorney”
This is probably the most common objection I hear. Certainly, I’d be ecstatic if a business owner never needed an attorney! Why, you ask? Because it means that he or she understood perfectly all the legal ramifications of every business decision they’ve ever made, that they fully reviewed and understood all the provisions and clauses of every contract they ever signed, that they understood all the nuances of any document or notice issued by a local, state, or federal authority, and that they’ve kept up to date on every new law, modifications to existing laws, and clarification of understandings of any ruling issued by any authority, entity, or individual that has an effect, directly or indirectly, on their business, their person, or their employees. Frankly, that’s an incredibly situation, and I would love it if more people found themselves in such a position!
“I Already Have an Attorney”
Truthfully, I like hearing this. It tells me that the person to which I’m speaking has the good sense to seek out legal advice in order to make better, more informed business decisions. It is unlikely, however, that an attorney can provide all the benefits of a legal plan. Why not? Because doing so means the attorney understands every area of law that can affect a business, from intellectual property to employee-employer relations. That attorney keeps up with the ever-changing number of existing and emerging laws, both civil and criminal to insure he or she can fully advise you regarding their impact on your business. That’s an amazing feat! One law professor, paraphrasing an expert on the current number of criminal statutes, said:
Estimates of the current size of criminal laws vary, although it’s been reported that the congressional research service can no longer even count the number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered over all 50 [titles] of the U.S. Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, these statutes often incorporate by reference the provisions of administrative regulations. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, although the ABA thinks there may be nearly 10,000. – Professor James Duane, Regent University School of Law
Any attorney that can pull that off has my vote! However, I’ve rarely seen an attorney provide the same level of service and expertise as an attorney network.
“I’ve Got Attorney Friends Who Can Help Me Out”
Lots of people know attorneys. Many have professional relationships with attorneys (they provide certain support services to those lawyers, like marketing or printing services). Some are good friends with an attorney. In any of those situations, it’s very possible that an attorney will provide certain services at no charge, especially if the business owner is providing his or her services to said attorney gratis. That’s a good thing. If those attorney friends are willing and able to answer any legal question the business has, review their contracts and documents, provide free or reduced cost trial defense services, and will do all of the above as if the business was their number one client (meaning they won’t back-burner your issues until they finish dealing with paying clients first), then you certainly have an enviable situation. And if they meet the criteria from the previous question, you’ve definitely hit a home run!
“The Attorneys Didn’t Help Me”
I get this from business owners who have used legal plans in the past and did not receive the result they wanted. First, let me acknowledge up front that sometimes an attorney doesn’t do what he or she should. That’s happened with members using the legal service plan I offer. On the few occasions that it happened, I and the company administering the plan were quick to correct matters. That said, the typical scenario is a person used the plan in a situation where the attorneys had no room to move. For example, perhaps the member didn’t contact the attorneys early enough in the process, and this made it all but assured that the outcome to the member was less than stellar. But is it that the attorneys didn’t help? Let’s make an analogy. If a person shows signs of a medical condition, yet doesn’t seek out medical help early, the condition tends to get worse. If that person waits until they are practically bedridden before seeking medical attention, chances are serious damage already occurred. The doctor can only do so much in that situation because the patient’s condition has progressed too far to effect a full recovery. Would it be fair to say the doctor “didn’t help?” Not at all! Rather, it’s a case of not seeking assistance early enough for the doctor to do the most good. Legal situations are similar. If you seek assistance with, say, a potential violation early on, an attorney can do so much more to help you, perhaps even getting the matter dismissed. On the other hand, if you call them when the Marshall is putting chains on the doors of your business, it’s probably too late for an attorney to do real good. However, if an attorney doesn’t do his or her duty, and you’ve exhausted all avenues for rectifying the matter, then perhaps that particular service isn’t for you.
“You Can’t Get Good Attorneys for Such a Low Fee”
I believe you get what you pay for. I also believe that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re getting cut-rate attorneys then a legal plan is worthless, no matter how attractive the membership fee seems. First, however, be sure of the reason why the membership fee is low. Let’s use medical insurance as an example. Most people pay (relatively) low premiums – yes, I know medical insurance rates increased dramatically this year; bear with me – and receive care from top-notch physicians. Since so many members are paying into a communal pool for services, the insurance provider can cover the doctor’s costs since everyone isn’t receiving treatment at the same time. If you apply the same principle to a legal service plan, then you can get top-rated attorneys at an affordable price. However, if the reason for the low monthly membership is the plan attracts bottom-of-the-barrel lawyers, then you should run (not walk) away from that plan. Do not pass “Go,” and don’t stop to collect anything they offer!
If any of the above legitimately apply to you, I can empathize with why you feel a legal service plan is a bad fit. In my experience, however, the above rarely (if ever) apply. People (entrepreneurs and small-to-medium size business owners in particular) need attorneys. Having an attorney is no substitute for having an attorney network with expertise in all areas of business law. Knowing friends who practice law rarely translates into the level of service available through a legitimate legal plan. If given proper notice, attorneys can help. And the low cost in no way reflects on the level of service a business receives from lawyers in a network (I’m referring here to a closed provider network where the plan administrators hand select the legal professionals who render aid to members). So I remain a strong proponent of legal service plans, and will wholeheartedly recommend them to any business who is serious about protecting themselves in an uber-affordable way!
If you’ve got a solid reason for not using a legal service plan, I’d love to hear it. Tell me about your experiences in the Comments section, give me a call, or shoot me an email. My contact info is below. [Edited December 13, 2013]
- Questions All Small Businesses Should Ask Their Attorney (kerwynhodge.wordpress.com)
- What to Look for in a Legal Benefits Plan (esbjournal.com)
- Different Types Of Legal Service Providers Your Can Hire For Your Business (myneworleansfamilylaw.wordpress.com)