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Even average, middle-income people need to protection from lawsuits, sales rep says

Litigious culture drives growth of pre-paid legal benefits

For a while it has been accepted that most families without health insurance are just one hospital stay away from bankruptcy. It may also be true in today’s litigious society that most families are just one lawsuit away from bankruptcy. So why not get legal insurance, much like you get medical insurance?

That’s the idea behind Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., which sales representative Jeff Turnipseed of Gulfport says is one of the fastest growing employee benefit programs in the country.

“A pre-paid legal service plan is basically to attorney fees what your medical insurance is to your doctor and hospital bills except you don’t have all the deductibles,” Turnipseed said. “Any individual can purchase the service. But it just happens to be extremely popular as an employee benefit. When I do a group like one of the counties, they get it at a little bit of discount rate and the ability to do payroll deductions makes it easy on them.”

Why should employers be interested in providing this service? Turnipseed said it helps reduce absenteeism, which can have a big impact on the company’s bottom line. Some surveys have found that taking off work for a legal-related issue is common, and that employees with legal problems are five times more likely to be absent and four times more likely to use their sick leave.

With Pre-Paid Legal Services, employees can call a toll-free number to get legal advice. They don’t have to schedule an appointment with an attorney, or worry they can’t afford to see an attorney and ignore the problem.

“Also, their productivity is reduced because their mind is not on the job, and they are worried about how they are going to pay for an attorney,” Turnipseed said. “If they can call to ask a question without taking a day off, it helps out the employer ans well as the employee. Companies like Microsoft, Pepsi-Cola, GM and other Fortune 500 companies have been offering legal service plans for a long time.”

Turnipseed said that in today’s litigious society, it often isn’t a matter of “if” you will be sued, but “when” will you get sued. People in the top 10% of earnings can afford an attorney, and the people in the lowest earnings bracket have access to free legal aid. For the remaining 80% of American, a pre-paid legal plan is a way to keep high lawyer costs at bay.

“Most people can’t afford the cost of defending a lawsuit,” Turnipseed said. “Average, middle-income people need to protect themselves from lawsuits just as they protect themselves with health insurance.”

The plan is now available to Harrison and Hancock County employees as well as municipal employees in Jackson and Gulfport. For $14.95 per month, employees and their families can receive unlimited access to an attorney for advice without hourly charges. Legal work done includes writing letters and making phone calls, preparing and updating wills, trial defense, IRS audit matters and being represented in cases involving accidents.

Considering average attorney fees, the low monthly payments seem too good to be true.

Turnipseed said several things make the low monthly premium possible. First, about 90% of legal problems can be handled over the telephone with advice. Second, not all members are accessing the service each month. Third, the volume of members in the state makes it worthwhile for the law firm.

In Mississippi, the Dyre Law Firm in Jackson handles Pre-Paid Legal Services, and is paid about $60,000 per month. Pre-Paid Legal Services has become the law firm’s biggest client.

Turnipseed said the program has proven to be very popular in Texas. The second largest law firm in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the provider of services for Pre-Paid Legal Services. Payments to the law firm total about $1.2 million per month. The plan is also very popular in New York City where minorities concerned about racial profiling keep “Legal Shield” cards in their wallet to use if they are even stopped by police. The American Bar Association (ABA) endorses the concept of legal service plans.

“Attorneys have figured out that the only people who can afford their services these days are the wealthy,” Turnipseed said. “The pre-paid plan gets people in their doors who normally couldn’t afford to see them. Look at health insurance and doctors. If it wasn’t for health insurance, where would doctors be today? Lawyers are starting to figure out the same thing.”

Pre-Paid Legal Services requires the attorneys who provide legal advice to have high ratings from Martindale Hubbell, at least three years of experience, and they must be of high standing in the community and with the ABA.

Pre-Paid Legal Services is a public company. It was started in 1972 after founder Harland C. Stonecipher had a costly brush with lawyers stemming from a head-on automobile accident. Although he wasn’t at fault, his legal bills accumulated rapidly. He had auto insurance, medical insurance and health insurance. The only type of protection he didn’t have was for legal services. Stonecipher said that while more and more people are finding that Pre-Paid Legal is the answer to their legal needs, the market is still vastly untouched.

“During the calendar year ended Dec. 31, 1999, we added 525,352 new memberships which was a 34% increase over the new memberships added during the same period in 1998, and represents the ninth straight year of increasing membership sales,” Stonecipher said. “New sales associates recruited during the calendar year ended Dec. 31, 1999, increased to 92,644, an increase of more than 22% compared to the same period in 1998.”

For more information, visit the Web site www.prepaidlegal.com or call Turnipseed at (228) 832-1932 from the Coast or 1-888-821-1932 from elsewhere in the state.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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