The group legal plan is growing.

More employers are slashing budgets, which often equals cutting benefits. No more 401(k) matching, a high-deductible health plan becomes the only option, and money gets tight and employees see it and feel it.

Enter the group legal plan. It doesn't cancel out employees' sticker shock over an HDHP, but it does mean that at a relatively low cost, an employee can see an attorney at, say, $15.95 a month.

Tina Bourdon saw this option and helped get D'Amato Builders and Advisors, LLC on board to potentially provide her 32 coworkers with the ability to write a will, make power of attorney and contest parking tickets. Things they might not otherwise do for a lawyer who could cost $140 an hour.

"I have heard employees talking about the benefits they will use immediately. Several of the people I spoke to do not currently have a will so they plan on that being their first action," Bourdon says, a controller with the construction company. Though the plan only started July 1, she's seen results. "We are always looking for ways to keep our employees happy and healthy and these plans help alleviate stressful personal situations which will undoubtedly have a positive impact in our company."

The reasons she pushed for such a plan are affirmed in a new survey released by Hyatt Legal Plans, a MetLife company, which shows employees who have group legal plans took four less weeks to resolve their legal matter, took less time off work and were not as stressed. About 36% of Fortune 500 companies have a group legal plan and 64% do not. (See By the Numbers on page 74 for further statistics from this survey.)

 

Steady growth

Marcia Bowers, sales and marketing director of Hyatt Legal Plans, has seen steady growth in group legal plans, and says several market factors are at work: "One is the recent recession and the continued uncertainty of the markets in the economic situation. Since the mortgage bubble burst, we saw a lot of attorney consultation with what's going on. Then, when we got deep into the recession, there was a rise in the need for attorneys in debt collection defense and bankruptcy, property tax and legal matters that relate to finances."

Stacey Jimenez, an independent agent with Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., sees that same pattern - as more people live on shoe-string budgets, they need services like these.

Mortgage delinquencies in the first quarter of 2011 were down compared to a year earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, although the percentage of U.S. mortgages in delinquency increased to a rate of 8.32%. In 2010, the median household income was $50,221 and 14.3% were living below the poverty line.

"With so many families living paycheck to paycheck, offering a service that can help them with day-to-day life issues for only a few dollars a week out of their paycheck just makes sense," Jimenez says. "With personal budgets as tight as they are across the country, people are looking to their employers for additional supportive benefits."

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