I had the opportunity to attend a presentation for Prepaid Legal Services, Inc. this weekend. I had heard about companies that have started offering either prepaid legal services and/or discounted legal services and I was interested in seeing the product that was offered.

The idea behind prepaid legal services is much like car or health insurance. You pay a monthly fee and have the ability to contact an attorney about your legal issues if and when you need to. “Legal issues” include drafting a simple will, reviewing simple contracts, making phone calls and writing letters if you have a dispute, and providing a limited number of hours for a defense in the event you are sued. Everything above and beyond that is billed at a discounted hourly rate determined by the attorney providing the services. The services are rendered by a local law firm.

The presentation makes the listener believe that he needs a lawyer for almost everything—from disputes with your dry cleaner to drafting your will. At first glance it might seem awesome to have an attorney at your disposal—much like Donald Trump or Wal-Mart. However, I’m not convinced that the common person needs an attorney for every “legal issue” that they might have. Obviously, drafting a will is something you should use an attorney for. On the other hand, many people, myself included, handle disputes with service providers and review simple contracts without the assistance of an attorney.

A letter from an attorney might be helpful to settle a dispute with a service provider. However, if a well-written letter from you doesn’t remedy the situation, a letter from an attorney most likely won’t help either.  Furthermore, if one of your disputes is not remedied with a phone call or a letter from your attorney, the prepaid service does not cover the costs of bringing an action to enforce your rights.

In conclusion, beyond a simple will preparation, the benefit for prepaid legal services isn’t evident to me.