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Effective Jan. 1, the more than six million employees covered by Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna Group Insurance have access to legal services at reduced rates and free online legal forms through one of the nation’s largest attorney-referral networks. “Prepaid legal services have been in the market for a number of years,” said Aetna Group Insurance vice president Ann Bryan. However, the group life insurer’s joint venture with Advisory Communications Systems [ACS], marks the first time that such a plan has been introduced as part of the standard benefits package to group life policyholders at no additional charge, Bryan said. It is also a recognition that consumers increasingly are turning to the Internet to find information on the law as well as legal representation, she said. Online at http://www.ichooselegal.com/, Aetna’s “Legal Choice” program allows its group life insurance customers to download and print various legal documents from living wills to promissory notes. For a flat fee of $59, policyholders can have an individual will drafted by one of the 16,000 attorneys in ACS’ nationwide network of law firms. (For couples, the cost of preparing a joint will is $79.) For $19.95, Aetna customers needing help in other fields of law can receive referrals to local attorneys �- who specialize in their particular legal need — for a free 30-minute consultation. Should they retain that attorney, policyholders will receive a 25 percent discount off the lawyer’s regular rates, Bryan said. “We know that some people aren’t … comfortable with the Internet,” acknowledged Sandra H. DeMent, president of ACS, based domestically in Lanham, Md. The Legal Choice program, she said, also includes telephone consultations with lawyers at the rate of $42 per call. “Most people do not have family lawyers,” said Bryan. So, the ability to obtain adequate legal representation online or over the phone, she maintained, can reduce the time that employees lose from work to handle their legal affairs. In a tight labor market, employers also increasingly are looking at ways to improve their benefits packages, Bryan said. Offering its insureds access to ACS’ resources, she added, is in line with other recent efforts by Aetna to meet those demands and stay competitive by enhancing its standard coverage plan. Advisory Communications System’s network includes roughly 100 firms in Connecticut. “Access” law firms — those that are able to provide telephone consultations — must be medium-sized, with three to 40 lawyers depending on the area of the country, according to the selection criteria listed on the company’s Web site at http://www.lawphone.com/. However, DeMent said that ACS also allow solos to join its lawyer-referral network. Among other requirements, “access” firms also must host a site inspection and sign contracts that require them to comply with telephone answering standards and have 24-hour emergency call-handling capability. DeMent said, in 2000, ACS paid out more than $2 million in reimbursements for telephone consultations to the law firms in its network. The company, she added, has teamed with other insurers in the past, including Farmland Mutual Insurance Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, through which it offers an employment-law helpline to farming co-ops.

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