September 2000 – One option for consumers is to sign up with a prepaid legal plan. Charging from $8 to $25 a month, the plans function similar to health insurance coverage. Clients contribute a certain amount of money every month so they will have legal protection if, and when, they need it.

Alec Schwartz, executive director of the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute , a trade group affiliated with the American Bar Association, said many labor unions use these plans and companies may offer prepaid legal plans as part of a benefits package.

“I think the market for these plans is growing,” Schwartz said.

Many legal cases are fairly routine, involving little more than reading a contract, drawing up a will, settling a neighbor dispute or handling a traffic ticket. Maybe your old landlord won’t return your rent deposit check. Schwartz said you might forget it and chalk the loss up to the price of doing business.

However, if you have a lawyer give that landlord a call, then you’re much more likely to get that deposit back. And instead of paying $50 or $100, or more, for this service, you’re covered.

Also, many legal plan companies have offices all over the country, Schwartz said, so you can get help if something happens in another state.

While the API does not endorse any one company, the Institute’s Web lists several group and prepaid legal service plans. Some of the companies include ARAG Group, Hyatt Legal Plans and Lawphone . You can also ask your employer, union, credit union or other organization to see if a plan is available to you.