Legal advice is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be

Voluntary Benefits Team

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen a surge in the popularity of voluntary benefits. Employers view them as a way to round out their core group employee benefits package, fill coverage gaps and provide additional protection that works best for their employees, without adding costs to their budgets. Voluntary benefits can be the proverbial win-win.

This isn’t just the feeling of those of us who work in the benefits industry day-in and day-out; corporate finance organizations are gung-ho for the positive impact of voluntary benefits. In a 2013 survey of CFOs, 74% agreed or strongly agreed that voluntary benefits are a cost-effective way to increase employee satisfaction.1

One voluntary benefit that is increasing in popularity is Group Legal. Very simply, Group Legal consists of prepaid legal services. Employees who choose this voluntary benefit have access to a team of lawyers on retainer—just like the rich and famous! The employee receives very affordable access to attorneys with expertise in a given field, such as real estate, family law, etc. This can be especially helpful to employees who would avoid engaging with the legal system because of the perceived high costs of hiring an attorney. In addition to affordability, Group Legal plans make legal representation non-threatening and satisfy a pressing need. According to the American Bar Association, 70% of Americans have at least one legal issue a year.2

This is a relatively inexpensive benefit, typically costing well under $1/day. Importantly, the benefits are easy to administer. According to a 2013 survey, 64% of employers consider legal services easier to administer than other voluntary benefits.3

One indication of the surging popularity of Group Legal is the number of companies that have sprung up the last couple years specifically to provide Group Legal benefits. Many are simply reselling another firm’s product or bundling legal products together and reselling them, but the fact that they see opportunity in the market validates the viability of these kinds of benefits.

Historically, individuals have utilized Group Legal because it’s a way to get a will written inexpensively, and can be updated at no cost. Today, the range of possible uses for Group Legal is expanding to include reviews of contracts and legal documents, consumer warranty advice, small claims court advice and traffic court representation. In short, Group Legal covers many of the typical legal issues employees may face.

How Group Legal Benefits Work 
When first presented with the notion of Group Legal benefits, most employees ask, “What kind of lawyer am I going to get?” And, more and more, the answer is, “A very good one.” Larger law firms are beginning to provide legal services to employer groups because it makes good business sense for them. Consequently, employees gain access to high-level legal talent very inexpensively.

Legal services typically accessed through Group Legal benefits include:

  • Real estate (closings, refinancing, tenant issues)
  • Wills, medical power of attorney, living wills
  • Review of legal forms
  • Family law issues
  • Immigration issues
  • Criminal law

As I mentioned, a lot of Group Legal vendors are bundling other services to help employees. For example: settlement services and home inspections can be provided in conjunction with real estate legal services. There are a couple of exceptions to what is available, and this should be good news for employers. Most law firms typically will not provide employment law services because it invites a potential conflict of interest with the employer. Similarly, most firms won’t help an employee to set up a side business.

Group Legal benefits can be the proverbial win-win: If the employee uses them once, it pays for itself. It’s a non-cost-additive benefit for employees; it typically saves them money, which in turn can lead them toward being a more satisfied and productive employee.

An employer considering Group Legal as a voluntary benefit should look for plan features such as:

  • Unlimited phone consultation, legal letters and phone calls on an employee’s behalf
  • Unlimited face-to-face consultation for separate issues. (Typically, a 30-minute face-to-face consultation is included in the cost of the benefit. After that, the “meter” starts running, albeit at a discounted rate).

Group Legal’s value can extend beyond the merely transactional. It can have a positive impact on employee performance when you consider that a worker dealing with a legal issue is likely to be distracted while on the job. No employer wants that, and Group Legal can help; 61% of employees who used an attorney through a group legal plan report spending less time at work worrying about their legal situation and less time at work dealing with their legal situation.4 For reasons such as this, employers increasingly see group legal as a way to improve employee satisfaction; more than two-thirds have adopted group legal plans for this reason.5

Group Legal is an option that may not seem sexy and exciting at first, but it can have tremendous utility. Employers offering these plans demonstrate they care about their workforce and have thought about how to provide the best value for them.

And that’s smart business.

1 Prudential, “Voluntary Benefits: A Critical Tool for Improving Employees’ Financial Wellness”
2 American Bar Association, “Public Perceptions of Lawyers: Consumer Research Findings” 
3 MetLife: “Getting to Loyal: Legal Service Distinguish Your Company”
4 ibid
5 ibid

 


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