General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Law Trends & News

Practice Area Newsletter

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

FALL 2009

Vol. 6, No. 1

 

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

 

Expand Your Client Base With Group and Prepaid Legal Services Plans

Lawyers don’t need anyone to tell them that the economy is bad. Solo and small firm practitioners are caught firmly between their rising expenses and their clients’ shrinking wallets. Expanding a general practice often requires expenditures for marketing, but by participating with group and prepaid legal services plans, you can have the clients calling you with no marketing costs. Sound too good to be true? Well, read on!

What Are Group and Prepaid Legal Services?

Legal PPO

There are several models, but some of the fastest growing plans are based on the traditional healthcare PPO model, where members choose a provider from the network and the plan pays the attorney directly for the covered matters. As with the health insurance model, different plans cover different matters.

No-Cost Referrals

The marketing is handled for you so you can expand your practice without the advertising expense. Most plans are sold through employee benefit plans, so the plan markets to the employers, who then offer the benefit on a voluntary basis. The clients are referred directly to panel attorneys based on location and practice areas. The plans do not charge firms or lawyers a fee to join the panels.

General Civil Matters

Legal plans typically cover everyday civil legal issues. Some plans will cover limited criminal matters, such as minor traffic offenses. Most plans are looking for lawyers and firms with general practices, able to cover the most common legal issues. Lawyers and firms are not prohibited from representing plan members in cases outside the covered matters, so yesterday’s satisfied will client could be tomorrow’s personal injury client.

What’s in It for Me?

Supplement Current Practice

Most attorneys start with legal plans as a supplement to their regular business. Plans provide a ready-made client base without the need for advertising. The downside is that the compensation for the covered benefits is typically less than the usual hourly rate. The attorneys who stay with legal plans quickly realize that the more efficiently they operate, the more profitable servicing legal plans can become.

Regular Rate Referrals Outside the Plan Structure

For many firms that use legal plans as an adjunct to their existing business, they have found that “word of mouth referrals” by plan members to be a good source of new business. For example, a will for a plan member is reimbursed at less than the lawyer would customarily charge, but that satisfied client refers friends and neighbors who are not in the plan. Happy clients will return for legal work not covered by the plans.

No Account Receivables

Covered services provided to plan members are paid directly to the attorney, according to a set fee schedule, no collection headaches. When a client retains the lawyer for noncovered services, the lawyer bills the client directly at normal rates, after executing a fee agreement with the client. With all noncovered cases, including contingent fee matters, the fees are not shared with the plans.

Training

Most of the larger plans will provide a manual detailing the coverage and a plan representative to assist with questions about coverage, billing and other procedures. In addition, the plans may host CLE events and conferences, providing low cost educational opportunities.

Networking

Panel attorneys form a nationwide network that can provide valuable resources to the solo and small firm practitioner. Far more than 15,000 attorneys nationwide are already providing services to group and prepaid plans. By joining a panel, you would have instant access to those lawyers, to serve a member across jurisdictional or practice boundaries or just to share ideas.

How Do I Get Involved?

Plan Requirements

  • Be licensed to practice in the state where you accept clients.
  • Be in good standing with the relevant regulatory authorities and no bar complaints or disciplinary problems.
  • Maintain a physical office in the states(s) where licensed and practicing law.
  • Maintain malpractice insurance coverage (some plans have partnership agreements with malpractice carriers).
  • Some plans have a “minimum years of practice” requirement

On the Web

There are several ways to get involved with group legal services plans. Through an exclusive arrangement with GPSolo, you can join the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute (API) and ABA-Affiliated organization at a special discounted rate. One of the member benefits of joining API is access to the Universal Application. Interested attorneys can fill out one web-based application and send it to seven different group legal services plans at once. The same portal allows current plan members to upload their annual updates and send that information to all the plans for which they provide services.

Where Can I Get More Information?

  • Go to http://www.aplsi.org
  • Call Adrienne Tucker, API Member Services, at 312-988-5751
  • Contact any member of the ABA Standing Committee on Group & Prepaid Legal Services (Dwight L. Smith, Chair

William R. Go of Bakersfield, CA, is a former member ABA Standing Committee on Group & Prepaid Legal Services and the president-elect of the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute.

 

 

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.