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According to ABA statistics, 150 million Americans can’t afford basic legal services. In 1996 Brett Merl formed the Legal Club of America to address that need by setting up a network of lawyers willing to offer low-cost legal care. Based in Palm Beach, Florida, Legal Club of America offers its referral service primarily through insurance companies, which offer the plan as a pre-paid benefit through employers. In return the insurance companies get a commission– starting at 25 percent– on each plan sold. The plans cost $96 a year for individuals and $300 for small businesses. Subscribers get some services for free, such as a simple will. More complicated services are provided at discounted rates, including fees that are capped at $75 an hour. Merl, who previously ran a small insurance company, says that Legal Club has a network of about 8,000 attorneys throughout the nation serving 600,000 subscribers, making it the largest proprietary referral network in the country. Merl discussed his business with The American Lawyer’s Douglas McCollam. The following is an edited excerpt.

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