Mediation To Maximize Legal Plan Benefits

January 19th, 2011 - Erin Johnston

Pre-Paid Legal MemberPre-paid legal plans have become more and more popular. Many join plans offered as a payroll deduction at work, while others seek out such plans as a protection for their families; even the AARP has a legal plan for members. It can seem impossible never to need an attorney and these plans provide a basic level of legal service for a minimum cost.

The legal services generally covered in monthly plan fees include document review for such things as simple wills and contracts, as well as the paperwork completion in simple uncontested divorces. It can be frustrating and costly, however, if, in the course of legal review or document completion, the plan attorney finds concerns or recommends revisions in contracts or settlements as that may fall outside of the covered benefit and into the hourly fee structure of the plan. These plans do generally come with a discounted hourly rate for non-covered legal services, but legal services outside the scope of covered benefits can cause member costs to rise quickly and significantly. Members may not have much choice as to an attorney and some plans refer all legal work to contracted law firms that charge members $350 to $450 dollars an hour.

This does not mean that the plans are not helpful. It simply means that members who access the services through legal plans and clubs maximize their benefits if they have already taken care of the negotiation aspect their issue.

Legal plan members should ensure that the all pertinent issues have not only been acknowledged but also resolved. Working with a professional mediator is a means of creating a comprehensive will, divorce settlement, or contract outside of the plan benefits. In other words, mediation can be an efficient and practical means of using your prepaid legal benefit to the fullest.

Through mediation couples and partners can clearly define the terms of wills, contracts, parenting plans for child custody, and determine the settlement of terms for divorce. Once the agreements have been reached and documented by the mediator, parties can then take the agreement to their pre-paid plan lawyer for review and document completion.

One legal program lists simple divorce filing/processing for plan members for $275 dollars. If the parties mediate the terms, instead of each seeking a lawyer (even through the plan) to hammer out the settlement, they could save time and money (savings in the $1000’s).

Litigated cases are almost always going to require more time and money than a mediated case. Mediation allows those in dispute to focus on the agreements – not on hurrying through the decision making process to save money or aggravation. Once the agreement is reached, almost always in less than 8 hours of mediation, parties can use their legal club or pre-paid legal services to complete and file the paperwork with the court in those cases where it required – such as divorce.

At the outside, using mediation and limited legal club services can result in a total cost of $5000 for a couple to divorce. This is a fraction of the typical divorce cost – most estimates putting costs well above $30,000 for a traditionally litigated divorce (in larger cities the average litigated divorce can average closer to $50,000 per couple.

It is important to remember that prepaid legal programs and clubs can be quite beneficial, but to maximize the benefit, completely mediating the issue or dispute prior to accessing services should be considered.

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