When the White House released the 2018 budget outline, one element that caught my attention was the proposed elimination of Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which is the primary source of funding for civil court legal aid for low-income Americans. Funding for LSC is critical to the lives of many Americans as well as to the viability of access to our legal system.
Combine this possibility with the fact that law offices are doing less work for individuals and more work for businesses, and this spells trouble for the 75 percent of Americans who experience at least one legal event a year. And even if people are able to connect with a quality attorney, how are they able to afford attorney fees that average $343 an hour when the majority of Americans have a hard time paying a one-time emergency expense of $400?
Now more than ever, legal insurance is a benefit employees need.
To see the potential support legal insurance can provide your clients’ employees, let’s look at an issue millions of Americans deal with every year: domestic violence. One out of four women (and one in seven men) will be a victim of severe physical violence in her lifetime. Currently the main source of legal assistance for women attempting to escape domestic violence situations is programs funded by the LSC.
But what if these programs are cut? Where will these women turn for help?
Meet Kim. Kim was in an abusive marriage with two toddlers. She knew she needed to get out of her marriage for the safety of herself and her kids, but she was scared. She didn’t know if she could afford living on her own, let alone paying for an attorney to help her get a divorce. And she was scared at the thought of figuring it all out by herself.
Thankfully, Kim’s employer offered legal insurance as a voluntary benefit. Kim shared:
“This insurance was my lifeline to independence. I needed to take matters into my own hands…and my legal plan gave me that security to be able to do that. With that, it created a ripple effect for me to be able to sell my home and purchase another one for my two children. Because of my new life, I was also able to put together a will to provide for my children if something should happen to me. So many women stay in an abusive relationship because they cannot afford to get away, so I consider myself...my life...happy and secure again. I couldn't have done it otherwise!”
Kim’s legal insurance gave her the ability to work with an attorney who could help her — not just with her immediate legal issue, but in the future, to make sure she and her children always felt secure and protected. And she was able to do all of this without having to worry about cost.
Currently, cost is a significant barrier for many people who need an attorney.
But with legal insurance, the average amount employees pay as a premium for one entire year ($200-$300) is less than the average attorney rate for one hour of their time ($343) — and we all know that most legal issues are not going to be resolved in an hour. Even creating a simple will takes an average of four hours for an attorney to complete. So legal insurance could save employees thousands of dollars for just one legal issue.
Plus, the premium is something that people can budget for, which can make even the most unexpected legal situation less stressful because you aren’t worrying about paying for an attorney on top of everything else.
In addition to being less stressed because they are saving money, people who work with an attorney feel less stressed in general, because they believe they are also receiving a better outcome and saving time.
Having access to attorneys makes a difference, plain and simple.
A recent study concluded that attorney representation affects case outcomes —perhaps because attorneys are more aware of “procedural options” and inclined to take advantage of them in ways that resolve cases more quickly.
No one wants their employees to have to deal with a catastrophic legal event like losing their home. If your clients’ employees are given access to attorneys and legal resources through a legal insurance voluntary benefit, they will be better equipped to handle legal matters big and small — and they will be more engaged employees. As an HR executive, my first concern is always our company’s people, but I also have to remember that stressed, overwhelmed employees can negatively impact a company’s bottom line.
We may not yet know what will become of the budget proposal or federal funding for LSC and legal aid programs, but we can’t sit around and wait until it’s too late. Legal insurance is a way to help employees today so that they won’t be caught without an attorney when they need one.