Are Pre-Paid Legal Plans Worth It? NO!

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is important and some of it is junk. Yesterday, I got a marketing letter from a company called Legal Resources, a pre-paid legal services provider. If you’re not familiar with pre-paid legal services, the providers purport to operate like insurance companies, whereby you pay a monthly fee in exchange to access to their network attorneys at a discounted rate, should you need legal help.

When I received the Legal Resources letter, it included a fee schedule that an attorney has to agree to abide by when dealing with their pre-paid legal clients. This company’s particular fee schedule is national, so it doesn’t at all account for market fluctuations based on geography, client demographics, competitive environments, laws, and courthouse practices. The fee schedule is one size fits all.

Upon reviewing the fee schedule, I was admittedly pretty floored. So much so that rather than just tossing the packet in the trash, I felt compelled to reach out to the company’s “Law Firm Network Coordinator” to provide some feedback on just the type of quality attorney that their member clients can expect to be dealing with based on the fee schedule. As expected, she didn’t take kindly to my call and feedback. I wasn’t trying to berate her over the fee schedule, but rather express my genuine concern over what they were in fact providing their clients.

For example, the negotiated fee for a DWI first offense was $400 for plea and $1000 for trial. Honestly, I don’t think you could find even the worst attorney in Raleigh to do a DWI plea for $400. A middle of the road attorney charges in the ballpark of $2000. I really good DWI lawyer charges more than that, and a mediocre attorney charges less. You get the picture.

The thing that Legal Resource’s fee schedule doesn’t take into account is that DWI’s in Wake County for example can take a year to get to trial, because there’s no speedy trial statute and they don’t offer plea deals, so cases that should be pled to something less aren’t and instead they go to trial, causing a significant backlog of cases. If it takes 12 months to go to trial, that may be 12 court appearances, and that doesn’t include phone calls, emails, research, preparation, and meetings with the client. So just for court time, that attorney makes $83 at the $1000 fee rate. Now, $83 an hour sounds great, and it would be if the attorney (or anyone else for that matter) were making $83 an hour, 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year. But the reality is that they’re not. They may get paid $83 per hour for 2-4 hours per day, and they have to pay taxes out of that, office rent, utilities, office supplies, etc. The result is two-fold:

  1. The attorney needs to either take on a high volume of cases to make enough money to survive, meaning the time to dedicate to a client’s case is limited;
  2. The attorney may not care much about the case because they are being paid next to nothing to care;
  3. The attorney might need to take this type of business because he/she is not getting business elsewhere, because frankly, it’s not a good attorney;
  4. The client gets an attorney that is very inexperienced and can’t command higher fees because of that lack of experience.

Either way you look at it, it’s a tremendous disservice to the client, who thinks they are paying to have a crack attorney on stand-by and instead find themselves dealing with a sub-par attorney or one that’s too busy to focus on the case.

My advice: skip the pre-paid legal service subscription. Instead, put that money in a savings account. Hopefully, you’ll never need to spend it on a lawyer, but if you do, you will have saved up enough money instead of paying fees that you can actually go hire a really good attorney at a rate that means you’re getting quality.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.