Legal Plan: Does Your Family Need Legal Protection?

We all know that America is home to the most litigious society on the planet. A woman spills a cup of coffee on herself and sues the restaurant claiming it was too hot. Or how about the Judge that sued the cleaners for $54 million for losing a suit. If that’s not crazy enough, how about the concert goer, who several years after the incident, sued the rock star for falling on her and injuring her with his buttocks. You can Google “outrageous law suits” and get over 3 million results that include stories even more ludicrous than these. When you consider that there are 3 lawsuits filed in America every second, is it any wonder why legal plans are becoming a big part of the financial and security protection for families and small businesses? Remember, sixty years ago it was uncommon to own a health plan. Today it is uncommon not to have one. And today, many European countries have as much as an 80% participation rate with legal plans. But in America, and Canada for that matter, less than 10% of people have a legal plan.

So a law suit is one thing, but what about the everyday common things that can cause our veins to pop out of our heads. Here’s one:

A father pays for his daughter’s wedding reception to be held at very nice ball room. A few hours into the event, the plumbing goes out. He calls the event manager to request emergency services, and they arrive with a port-a-potty. After the event, when he calls to register a complaint, they offer a small refund of about $100, about ten percent, arguing that the event was almost over anyway. They haggle back and forth, and the owner basically says take it or leave it. The father calls his legal plan provider law firm for assistance. After the law firm writes a letter on his behalf to the business owner, the father receives a refund in the mail for over half of the cost.

Here’s another:

While a neighbor is walking his rottweiler dog, he lets it loose to run and it attacks and kills another a chihuahua dog that was in its own yard. The neighbor quickly retrieves his dog and disappears. When the police are called, they basically tell the dead dog’s owners that there really isn’t much they can do, and that maybe they should call the county animal control. The deceased dog’s owner makes a call to the legal plan provider attorney, and is advised to request that the police take a report and to have the incident on record, and then call animal control with that report number to have them investigate. Subsequently, when animal control does investigate, they find that the attacking dog is not registered, takes it into custody, fines the owner and requires that they register their dog to get it back. Also, a the legal plan law firm writes a letter to the owner demanding a monetary amount for full restoration of the dead dog. The attacking dog’s owner complies.

Having a legal plan to address the small legal issues like these can be quite beneficial to families, especially for the relatively small cost that they charge. Most charge a monthly fee, with the average daily cost being less than the price of a cup of coffee at the local convenience store.

Most legal plan companies will generally provide you with the basics, like phone consultation, letters and phone calls on your behalf, contract and document review, and a general will. And some of the legal plan companies provide more extensive plans that will cover you, at no extra cost, for representation for things like motor vehicle moving violations, IRS Audits, and trial defense services. And even a few provide Identity Theft Protection.

Having legal representation in court for vehicle moving violations – lets call it what it is, speeding – can really be valuable when it comes to car insurance premiums. As it was described to me years ago, “It’s the points, dummy.”. For we all know that for every point on your driving record, or your teenager’s driving record for that matter, your insurance premium will go up – if they don’t drop you altogether. If you can find a plan that offers this coverage – and there are some out there – it could be a huge plus for you pockets.

I won’t even go into depth about dealing with an IRS audit. Plain and simple, when Uncle Sam comes calling, you better answer with a tax attorney.

And as you already read earlier, law suits are getting crazier by the day. And more are being filed than ever before.

So, in summary, when you know that the odds are greater that one will be in court than in the hospital in the next year, the question isn’t “Does your family need legal protection?”, the question is “Can your family afford not to have a legal plan?” After all, with these odds, it goes to say that it’s not if you are going to need an attorney, but quite frankly, when you are going to need one.

Website Legal Compliance – FTC Accelerates Crackdown On Fake News Sites

We’ve all seen headlines in search results like this one – “XYZ Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam”. And perhaps we actually believed there was objective reporting or unbiased commentary behind the headline. But after reading the web page, it was clear that the headline was just a clever way to catch your attention and lure you to a sales page with an aggressive sales pitch.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has seen these headlines too, and the FTC doesn’t think they’re clever at all. In fact, the FTC believes they constitute deceptive and unfair trade practices, as indicated by the FTC’s accelerated crackdown on affiliates of a popular diet drink with aggressive weight loss claims.

Modus Operandi

The modus operandi of these sites was to start with attention grabbing headlines such as the one listed above and these additional ones – “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.”

The sites presented what appeared to be a skeptical commentator who raises the question of whether the diet drink is really effective. The commentator appeared to be objective; however, after a few paragraphs the commentator would conclude that use of the diet drink would result in a 25-pound weight loss in 4 weeks – all this without changing diet or exercise according to the FTC.

The prices for the supplement ranged between $70 and $100.

The FTC’s Claims

When the FTC originally initiated law suits against these sites, Charles Harwood, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection stated: “We are alleging that nearly everything about these Web sites is false and deceptive”. In addition, the FTC pointed out that the defendants aggressively promoted the deceptive ads by spending millions of dollars for placement on high volume websites resulting in millions of views by consumers and substantial sales.

Specifically, the FTC contended that the offending sites –

* failed to disclose their material relationships involving the payment of affiliate commissions with the merchants of the products;

* failed to produce independent tests to support the claims made prior to public dissemination;

* included a section of “consumer comments” that were completely fabricated;

* used infringing logos of reputable media outlets such as ABC, Fox News, CNN and Consumer Reports to give the false impression of credibility; and

* misappropriated the image of a French reporter for use on the sites.

The Settlements

The cases brought by the FTC were against six affiliates of the merchant that manufactured and supplied the weight loss supplement.

In the settlements, the defendants agreed that they will permanently cease their allegedly deceptive practice of using fake news websites. In addition, the settlements require that the defendants cease making deceptive claims about their other products, including work-at-home schemes and penny auctions which most of them promoted.

The big hammer in the settlements included fines in an aggregate amount which represented the affiliate commissions the defendants received through their fake news sites.

These settlement results clearly indicate that the FTC aggressively pursued every dollar they could under the circumstances (the final amounts left most of them with few real assets, if any):

* one defendant’s $2.5 million judgment was suspended when he pays $280,000 and records a $39,500 lien on his home;

* another defendant’s fine of $204,000 was suspended pending the payment of $13,000 plus the proceeds from the sale of a BMW automobile, and

* still another defendant was suspended pending the payment of almost $80,000 over a 3 year period.

Conclusion

The take-aways from these cases include –

* fake news sites are virtually guaranteed to get you sued by the FTC,

* ditto for fake testimonials or user comments,

* diet supplements of any kind are high on the FTC’s radar screen for regulatory scrutiny,

* the FTC is serious about enforcing its guidelines that affiliates are required to conspicuously disclose the fact that they are paid commissions for endorsements, and

* consistent with the FTC’s long-standing policy, advertising claims should be substantiated prior to public dissemination.

The FTC continues to make it absolutely clear that the days of the “Wild, Wild West” on the Internet, when it was open season on deceptive marketing practices, is clearly over for good.

This article is provided for educational and informative purposes only. This information does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such.

Better Legal Billing: Win Win Client Options

In the old days of legal billing, lawyer’s invoices — usually a single page of elegant letterhead–contained only the phrase, “legal services rendered,” and a hefty dollar amount. No time breakdowns, no list of activities performed or equipment and supplies used–just a final, usually shocking, charge.
But client demands and the evolution of sophisticated billing software have led to more detailed invoices today. Itemized statements have triggered discussion among businesses about whether hourly billing is the best way to be charged for legal services. As the legal profession becomes more competitive and dependent on high quality customer service, lawyers need to embrace alternate billing methods.
Fixed or flat fees, contingency fees, non-refundable retainers with discounted hourly fees, blended hourly fees and variations on those themes are becoming increasingly common. But many law firms have been slow to join this trend — lawyers still perform approximately 95 percent of their corporate legal work on an hourly basis.
What does that mean for your small business? If your company is currently working with a law firm or looking for legal counsel, try requesting alternate billing options. While many law firms rarely initiate different options, they’ll negotiate when brought to the table. If you want something better than the old “bill by the hour” deal, try presenting one of these billing structures:
Project billing for routine issues
If your legal needs include large but repetitive tasks, consider a flat-fee approach, also known as project billing. If you need legal assistance on a large research project involving several repetitive tasks with a fair amount of predictability for cost estimation and time duration, request a dollar cap for predetermined services. Be sure to compare estimated costs at the equivalent hourly rate–a projected cap that far exceeds any likely bill is really no cap at all.
Once you get a project billing estimate, don’t hesitate to shop around. Making an informed decision — shopping around, comparing prices and services with other law firms — is good business sense, especially if you intend to hire a firm for a single project. If you anticipate establishing a long-term relationship, mention this as you’re negotiating a project amount — a firm may provide a better deal if it expects future work from your company.
Results-oriented options
Forget the image of personal injury attorneys taking a third of any verdict or settlement. Consider instead contingency fees — fees based on the outcome of the case and the performance of your counsel. Creative use of contingency fees can create efficiencies in even the most high-level corporate settings. If you retain a lawyer to help your company avoid litigation, couple a reduced hourly rate with a bonus for successfully lowering your litigation outlays.
You also can establish an incentive based on a percentage of money won or saved in trial. If you’re a defendant in a case where the plaintiff has a strong shot at a $1 million settlement, negotiate a flat fee if the case goes to trial, plus a bonus if the plaintiff ends up getting less than $1 million. If you’re a plaintiff and estimate your case is worth between $1 and $2 million, you might negotiate services for a flat fee plus a percentage of any settlement over $1 million.
Contingency fees turn the matter into a shared risk or shared incentive, making the law firm your business partner, not just representation. Contingency fees can work well with both flat fee and reduced hourly fee arrangements. Because a number of variations on the “pay-according-to-success” theme exist, you should ask firms for the options they’re willing to discuss.
Multi-layered tasks
If you’re shopping for a firm for substantial legal work involving a number of legal specialties, consider using blended hourly fees. Rather than each attorney billing at the usual hourly rate, the firm calculates in advance an “average” rate based on the anticipated time each attorney spends on the matter.
The value of this arrangement is twofold–it helps define responsibility in a project and it provides a fair price schedule for the client, who avoids paying a senior partner’s hourly rate for research that should be conducted by a junior associate
Legal “Insurance” Firms without in-house counsel that frequently hire legal services might consider contracting with a firm. In this legal billing option, firms and clients agree to a specific charge per month in exchange for a predetermined set of legal services. The contract fee permits the client to pick up the phone and talk to the attorney without needing to eye the clock. This approach works like a legal insurance policy. It encourages companies to contact their counsel on non-litigation, non-crisis matters, and to save money in the long run by engaging in more preventive legal action.

Just as in business, the impetus for change comes from consumer demand. The sooner businesses take the lead in securing more effectively tailored billing methods from their legal counsel, the sooner they’ll get better, more cost-effective legal assistance.