Wednesday, Jul 26th

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You are here: Law & Politics Legal Solving the Legal Disconnect
Most people with health problems wouldn't think twice about finding a doctor and getting treatment. People with legal problems, however, are far less likely to even try to find a lawyer. They are not as familiar with how to go about finding representation at a time when there is actually an oversupply of lawyers in the United States. In the 1970s, an attorney named William Brooks saw this disconnect as a business opportunity and looked for ways to resolve both issues.

“The idea stemmed from studies of the American Bar Association, which showed that in the United States, people had a great need for legal services. It also showed that the vast majority of people needing legal care chose not to see a lawyer. People don't like lawyers; they're afraid of lawyers. They're worried about fees or how to find a lawyer,” Brooks said. “I got into it with my friend and partner, Joe Hyatt, in the late '70s. We were both lawyers.”

Together Hyatt and Brooks founded Hyatt Legal Services, a nationwide law firm. Within ten years it had become the largest law firm in the United States, eventually focusing on offering legal plans rather than direct legal services. “A fundamental service we provide to people who enroll is locating their lawyer,” Brooks said. “You might think of it as being on the wholesale end of legal services.”

During the economic downturn, Brooks shaped his plans to suit the new paradigm. “More and more employers are moving away from providing employer-paid benefits to providing so-called voluntary, employee-paid benefits,” he said. “That employer might first shift healthcare, life insurance and disability insurance from an employer-paid benefit to a benefit that is at least partially employee-paid, and then also add things like dental, legal, critical illness, long term care, financial planning, and other benefit options for employees to select. That shift has had a big impact on our growth and is definitely a trend that has helped us.”

Brooks has also seen a huge increase in business during the recession, stemming from the need for bankruptcy representation and other debt-related issues. “It was really the first time in our history that we saw such a dramatic increase in the use of one particular benefit,” he said. “Bankruptcy use has started to move toward more normal levels, but it definitely had a big impact. In that sense, you could say the recession has actually helped underscore the value and need for our service.”

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