Prepaid legal services are membership plans that provide members with access to lawyers for consultations, legal review of documents, preparation of documents, legal representation in court, and access to legal forms. Members pay a monthly fee to receive plan benefits. Companies sell plans directly, through independent sales reps, and through certain employers. Lawyers enter agreements with the companies that sell prepaid legal services plans in various jurisdictions. Plan members are able to select a lawyer from a plan-provided list.
Companies offering prepaid legal services promise numerous benefits such as consultations with lawyers concerning employment or insurance disputes, personal injury, criminal issues, and various other matters. Prepaid legal services typically include legal review of contracts, deeds, and other types of legal documents. Services may also include preparation of documents such as wills, powers of attorney, and contracts. Plan members are also able to access a database of legal forms and documents through the company selling the plan.
A prepaid legal services plan may also provide members with legal representation in court. Court representation may be available for a variety matters such as criminal defense, landlord-tenant, divorce, or employment-related disputes. This service, however, may only be at a discounted rate or for a predetermined number of hours. In other words, the lawyer agrees to represent a plan members for a reduced hourly fee or for a set number of hours. This means the monthly membership fee does not cover the entire costs of legal representation in court.
Companies offer prepaid legal services through direct sales and via independent sales reps. These companies typically pay independent reps by commissions and are not necessarily obligated to fulfill promises made by independent reps; as a result, consumer advocates encourage caution when dealing with a sales rep. The prepaid legal services contract or plan, rather than what a sales rep says, controls the scope of services. Companies also provide prepaid legal services through employers that want to make the plans available to employees as part of a benefits plan. Employees usually pay a monthly or semi-monthly fee through a paycheck deduction to receive plan benefits for themselves and family members.
Attorneys that provide legal services operate independently from companies that sell prepaid legal services. Generally, plan members are able to select a lawyer from a referral list of participating attorneys, which may be a limited number depending upon the area. These lawyers provide certain types of services to plan members pursuant to the membership plan. If a member requires legal services beyond the scope of the plan, then he or must pay for such costs out of pocket.