GPSOLO September 2009
GENERAL PRACTICE, SOLO AND SMALL FIRM
Legal Services Plans: More Business and More Clients
For nearly 40 years, the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Group and Prepaid Legal Ser-vices, its predecessor Special Committee, and the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute (API) have worked to advance group legal services plans as a meaningful and economical method of delivering legal services to low- and middle-income Americans. API has members in Canada and other countries as well.
There are dozens of group legal services plans in the United States, resulting in numerous opportunities for law-yers to apply for and be added to the panels of lawyers providing the actual legal services for these plans. Work-ing with a pilot group of such plans, the API and the Standing Committee have created the online Legal Plan Universal Application Portal, which allows a lawyer to apply to six legal plans at once. Lawyers simply fill out a single online application form, designate the plans they wish to apply to, upload and attach the necessary docu-ments (such as evidence of malpractice insurance and certificates of good standing), and click "submit." Lawyers who are members of several plans will no longer have to send a separate copy of their malpractice insurance to each plan administrator individually. If the administrator of a particular plan needs any additional information, it will contact the lawyer directly.
The Legal Plan Universal Application Portal can only be used by API members, but thanks to the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division’s new partnership with the API, GPSolo members currently receive a dis-count on API membership. Joining the API grants access not only to the application portal but also to the API’s many other benefits. (For more details about the API and what it offers, please visit www.aplsi.org.)
Michael J. Maslanka (the current API president, a former member of the Standing Committee, and a new member of the GPSolo Division) confirms that the application process through the API’s online portal really is easy—it takes only about 15 minutes. A lawyer with Sacks, Goreczny, Maslanka & Costello, P.C., in Chicago, Illinois, Maslanka has been participating in several types of legal services plans for 20 years. He became familiar with such plans when he joined a midsized firm that represented unions and employees of unions, which used prepaid legal services as part of their member benefits. He is a general practitioner, and he has found that his participation has definitely helped him to build his practice.
Maslanka once received a call from a new client on the same day that he was approved by a plan and his informa-tion was posted on the legal plan provider’s website. Learning how that plan worked took only a short time, too. Each participating lawyer receives a plan handbook with instructions on the payment process and coverage, and each lawyer is advised whom to call for any needed assistance.
Despite the simplicity of this process, some lawyers might be deterred from participating in a legal services plan because they believe that the fees the plan pays will be lower than those they could privately charge a client, or that the fees will be set on a fixed schedule. But the payment structure is different for every plan. For example, ARAG, Allstate, Countrywide Pre-Paid Legal Services, Legal Resources, UAW, and Hyatt are just a few plans that have differing payment structures. The payment structure usually depends on the type of matter involved. Referral plans may require free consultations for the client; others may require you to offer a discount on your regular fee. Maslanka also encountered a few instances where the plan didn’t cover some of the requirements for a case, so the plan paid part of the fee and the client paid the balance. Most plan billing is completed online. Sometimes the cases are grouped, and you are paid semimonthly.
Increased workload (high- volume calls) is another area of concern that may deter some lawyers from participat-ing in legal services plans (and possibly encourage others). Maslanka saw a gradual increase in his cases and of-ten sees repeat business or referrals from plan clients to their friends and family. The number of calls usually de-pends on your geographic location or legal specialty. If you are practicing in a niche area of law, you will be con-tacted as needed. If there are no other lawyers in the plan in your location, you will receive more calls. In urban areas, there may be multiple listings in your zip code. Essentially, you are letting the plans do all the marketing for you—and the plans even pay for it.
We urge you to visit the API website and decide if participating in a legal services plan is an opportunity that might be right for your practice.Best of ABA Sections
The Best of ABA Sections was initiated by the ABA and the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division to save you time and money by providing you with a synopsis of articles published by other ABA Sections. You are able to access a wide range of information and learn where to find more about it. We offer the Best of ABA Sections at a significantly reduced cost to all ABA Sections, Divisions, and Forums, as well as all state bar associations. The Massachusetts Bar Association and the Louisiana State Bar Association have already taken advantage of this offer. All you need to do is to inform us, and you can send it to your membership as another "touch" or contact. If you have any questions or would like additional information on how to get involved, please contact Robert Salkin, GPSolo Staff Editor, at 312/988-6076 or by e-mail at Robert.Salkin@americanbar.org. For more information about GPSolo, please visit http://new.abanet.org/divisions/genpractice/.
Kimberly Anderson is Staff Director of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division; she may be reached at 312/988-5636 or Kimberly.Anderson@americanbar.org.