be EDS for its operating expenses \(a points out, “if the Bar program doesn’t succeed, prepaid legal will fail miserably . . . everybody’s looking at us.” If so, few are concerned. TLPP may have certain troublesome aspects, but prepaid legal insurance is apparently here to stay, in some form or another. The AFL-CIO in 1973 worked successfully for an amendment to the TaftHartley Act which accorded prepaid legal “negotiable item” status in contract bargaining. Ruth Effinger of the Texas AFL-CIO, though having “some questions” about TLPP, likes prepaid legal as a concept. Sherman Fricks, secretary of the state AFL-CIO, is on TLPP’s board of directors. So is Alfred Wheatley of the Federal Employees’ Union in Dallas. \(Currently, only three “lay” members are on the fifteen-member board, but eventually, Richnow hopes, seven attorneys, seven policyholders, and one “independent” representative will make up Labor does run afoul of lawyers on one point about TLPPthe matter of open vs. closed panels. “Open panel” permits a policyholder to choose any lawyer. Labor prefers the “closed panel” arrangement, such as used in other states by many unions and consumer groups; it ties a policyholder to counsel retained by his or her parent group. Open vs. closed is also a sticking point for Jim Boyle of the Texas Consumers Association, who raves about prepaid legal as a concept, but can’t endorse TLPP because of the open panel set-up. panel could provide certain groups of employees more specific and appropriate expertise. There are good arguments on either side of the open-closed debate. Closed panels increase expertise but also could prove geographically impractical or infringe on attorney-client relations and the freedom to choose one’s own attorney. In some respects it is similar to the old openor closed-shop union debate. But under either system a lot of lawyers will get more work. Flies and spiders Prepaid legal has a number of attractions. To begin with, at $6 per month, it’s cheap. In Texas about 15 claims have been filed so far, helping folks out of scrapes with nasty mechanics and such. It is seenand soldas a way of extending legal services to the downtrodden middle class. The theory is that the rich can buy all the legal advice they need and the poor get theirs for free. The middle classharried, overtaxed, suburbanized, and a little desperateputs off 10 The Texas Observer its legal problems until what would have been a minor legal bill becomes onerous paid legal, the average Joe or Jane can easily take care of a will, a low-key squabble, or a minor contract, not to mention a divorce. Further, in Texas, prepaid legal is regulated. There is some question whether it is technically “insurance,” but Joe Christie’s outfit looked like the best policeman at the time and so was given the job. Regulations, contained in ance Code, have teeth. So, bureaucrats like prepaid legal, management likes it, labor likes it, “consumer” groups like it, the Legislature likes it, and you can imagine what the State Bar thinks. So why does one feel like a fly at a convention of spiders? Prepaid legal clamors for analogy with prepaid health insurance. In fact, much of the Texas plan is based on Blue Cross-Blue Shield \(also a Somehow the ancestry is considered a thing of honor. Prepaid legal is really like preventive medicine, we are told. Richnow says studies show that half of all court cases could have been settled without benefit of judge and jury if the conflicting parties had brought in lawyers before things got mucked up. “People will do anything they can to avoid talking to a lawyer,” he says. In other words, what we need are more lawyers to keep our legal problems to a minimum. It is not clear whether such preventive treatment would in the long run reduce or expand everyone’s need for a lawyer. EDS thinks business will pick up, if that’s a hint. Like prepaid health, prepaid legal is an effective gambit for keeping the money for such “social consciousness” programs in the private sector. Even in a money. Big insurance companies aren’t in yet because the program is too new to provide actuarial data to convince them the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. When the odds improve, corporate concern for our “legal protection” may be expected to grow. The prospects for a public sector legal insurance program seem as slim as those for national health care. For reasons that continue to escape me, a majority of Americans accept the myth, perpetuated by business and undisputed by labor, that it is better for the government to contract with the private sector for big national jobs than for the government to provide the services directly. The Post Office, with its problems, is seen as more inept than Lockheed with its megapercentage cost overruns. And welfare is more sinister than ITT. Double-think A debate over a national legal program moot. I foresee the arrival of socialized medicinetrial lawyers will form a majority in Congress and impose it on doctors out of spitebut given our system, and given the influence of lawyers in government, efforts to extend legal services through the public sector have a specific chance: none. In Texas, where defense of free enterprise occasionally reaches comic opera proportions, what we have is what we get. The 1975 Texas law, at least in part, was enacted to preempt federal prepaid regulation, which surfaced in proposals before Sen. John Tunney’s 1974 Senate judiciary subcommittee hearings. The sad thing about prepaid legal insurance is its very popularity. Instead of a serious restructuring of the legal services delivery system, we are presented with unimaginative tinkering. Instead of simplified wills and contracts, instead of greater access to courts for people with minor claims, and instead of the banishment of legal jargon from our everyday lives, we are given an opportunity to buy more of what already exists. Prepaid legal is nothing less than a marketing opportunity for lawyers, an advertisement en masse for the legal profession. You can understand why labor likes it: it is yet another bauble the AFL-CIO can dangle before workers to convince them their leaders are really thinking of the rank-and-file. Consumer groups, already bourgeois to the legalistic core, embrace prepaid legal as an economy device. The openvs. closed-panel discussion has nothing to do with the way prepaid legal plays into the hands of the Bar, whose interest in the long run is served by anything that expands the role of lawyers in society. One can be excused for not feeling grateful. Whether clever or insidious, prepaid legal insurance involves a certain amount of double-think. Unfortunately, such is the lawyer’s stock in trade. The Bar already talked the Legislature into itand just about everyone else. Other states are asking about the Texas legislation with hopes of copying it. If times for the TLPP are a little slow now, fat days surely lie ahead. It is a system in which the proffered cure is the disease itself, but the patients seem to be swallowing it. Rod Davis is a freelance writer living in Austin.
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