Steer Clear of Prepaid Legal Services Scams
By Siddarth Nagaraj
on May 20, 2011
We live in a society where regardless of background of behavior, all of us are likely to find ourselves confronted with the legal system at some point in our lives. Although we may never become embroiled in any sort of litigation, legal matters are a facet of everyday life and accompany us from birth to death. That said, it seems like a good idea to have someone working on our behalf who knows how to navigate the arcane structure of the law. You never know when a legal problem could arise in your affairs and you may find yourself needing an attorney. It would therefore seem like a good idea to always have assistance in advance through prepaid legal services just in case you need it. Right? Think again.
When explained in simple terms, prepaid legal service sounds like a form of insurance. Under the terms of such services, you pay a monthly premium in case you should find yourself in need of any of the forms of assistance offered by the provider. These include the drafting of a living will and consultation regarding certain legal procedures. The logic behind aligning yourself with a legal service that you are not actively using is that you are aware of who your representative is in case you should need an attorney. Proponents of prepaid services say that such agencies also preclude the frantic search for a lawyer that characterizes so many people’s behavior when they are faced with legal troubles. However, there is also substantive reasoning which questions whether paying for services you don’t currently need is a financially sensible course; many people who employ prepaid legal services pay between $300 and $500 a year without ever actually using them.
The perception that such prepaid services are a scam is only further perpetuated by the fact that in many cases, when clients of such groups actually need the agencies’ assistance they find that it would have been less expensive to simply hire a lawyer at that point, rather than having “prepared” for the contingency of any legal troubles. The same consultations and legal counsel that prepaid services advertise is often available at decreased costs or for free. To make matters worse, prepaid legal services are not comprehensive, and the premium that you will pay should you elect to employ them will not make you eligible for important legal matters such as counsel upon being arrested and defense in court. Neither of these is provided for by prepaid legal services, and their expensive nature only solidifies the sense that such programs are scams.
While defenders of prepaid legal services maintain that they are a valid and reliable source of support, the belief that the industry is a scam has lingered, especially among those who have employed such groups only to find to their chagrin that the very services they need are not available to them when they most require them. Yet dubious sources of legal assistance lie outside the realm of prepaid services too, and it is necessary to research all options thoroughly when you are seeking legal counsel so that you can find one that suits you appropriately. Prepaid legal services may seem no more than a scam for a good number of reasons, but approach all options with equal caution.