Contactless Legal Services: Here To Stay and Likely To Expand
By Emily Rose
It goes without saying that during the past year and a half, the world has been met by a wide variety of unique challenges. As society adapted to the pandemic in many ways, we have learned new ways to use existing technologies for communication, education, work, health, even personal relationships.
We have also seen a constantly changing legal landscape (mandates, moratoriums, etc.) resulting in employees being on uneven footing while trying to navigate financial and legal matters alone. This evolution, combined with the increased use of technology, has resulted in several new areas of focus in the employee benefits space:
- Service delivery innovations. Companies that had previously mastered digital/remote access to services, i.e., “disrupters,” experienced a growth explosion in 2020. Examples include Zoom (virtual meetings), Teladoc (healthcare), and LegalShield (legal and identity theft protection).
- Legal protection and support. Important in periods of stability and critical during trying economic and social times.
- Privacy and reputation management. More people are conducting their daily transactions from home. These include online shopping, socializing, working, entertaining, and more. With increased usage comes a higher risk of identity theft and online privacy concerns.
The soaring value of virtual professional services, especially health, legal, and identity protection.
Sheltering in place and social distancing dramatically curtailed, or in many cases, put a complete stop to in-person visits to professional service providers, like doctors, accountants, and lawyers. Many people simply decided to hold off on these services indefinitely despite their high priority. For example, a recent McKinsey healthcare industry report confirms a “strong continued uptake, favorable consumer perception, and tangible investment are all contributing to the continued growth of telehealth in 2021.” The report continues with: “New analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.”
A similar phenomenon has occurred in the legal space. LegalShield, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has long been in a position to deliver services virtually. Over the last decade, our business model has enabled employees to:
- Receive counsel from provider lawyers via virtual meetings and phone calls on a wide range of personal legal matters. Additionally, plan participants have always had 24/7 emergency legal access to provider lawyers.
- Upload documents (taxes, contracts, traffic matters, leases, estate planning, etc.) for legal review via the LegalShield mobile app.
- Quickly and easily create estate planning documents, including Wills and healthcare directives.
Meeting employees where they are.
Innovative, agile companies meet employees where they are, not the other way around. LegalShield enables plan accessibility through a desktop interface as well as a mobile app. Employees are accommodated based on their personal needs and following the laws in their state. For example, as remote online notarizationbegan cropping up in response to sheltering in place and social distancing, LegalShield monitored the situation on the state level, in real-time, and quickly responded by adding this service for all participants in impacted states.
The utilization of LegalShield’s voluntary benefit plan reached new records in 2020. We received the highest number of requests since March 2011—a nearly 26% year-over-year increase. A breakdown of requests by area of law shows these specific year-over-year increases and the most common legal matters include:
- Wills and other estate planning service requests by 46% as employees sought to protect their families in worst-case scenarios.
- Real estate-related requests increased by 43% and were the highest since early 2017, as participants bought and sold property, and refinanced their existing mortgages.
- Consumer finance legal services increased by nearly 26% as participants continued to deal with matters related to insurance, taxes, banking, vehicle financing, and loan modifications.
- Services in the family law category increased by 22% as families fundamentally restructured due to children’s education shifting to remote learning and dealt with other stressors introduced by the events of 2020.
More online activity has created a higher risk of identity theft.
According to AARP, reports of identity theft in the US skyrocketed to nearly 1.4 million in 2020, more than double the number a year earlier and triple the number from 2018. Thieves hijacked other people’s identities to obtain driver’s licenses, passports, and other government-issued documents said an FTC spokesman.
Identity theft events are likely to continue in an arms-race fashion, as cyber-criminals evolve their efficiencies and find new ways of targeting the American workforce. As an already digital society pre- COVID-19, our engagement with technology and spending more time in the online world is a trend that also will likely continue. This is one reason why IDShieldsaw a 32% increase in identity consultations in 2020 which to date represents the highest single year of service requests since 2012.
- Even before the pandemic, employees’ concerns around identity protection were escalating. According to the 2019 LegalShield/IDShield Workplace Study: A stunning 89% of employees felt that having access to an online privacy protection plan would provide peace of mind.
- Over 50% felt their employers should provide identity protection services at the workplace.
- Forty percent of employees harbored deep concerns about having their identities stolen.
The LegalShieldWorkplace Study was conducted by Echo Research LLC, an independent communication, brand, and reputation research company, among a random sample of 750 U.S. employees and 300 U.S employers at companies with at least 100 employees between June 24 and 28, 2019. Employees work full-time, 40+ hours, and are offered voluntary financial benefits at their workplace; employers are c-Level, EVP/SVP/VP, director, manager, or other decision-makers of their company’s workplace benefit offerings. The overall margin of error is +/- 3.6% (Employees) and +/- 5.7% (Employers) at the 95 percent confidence level. Download a summary of the full findings at legalshield.com/FinancialWellness.
Contactless legal services and identity theft and online privacy concerns won’t stop after the pandemic is over.
The pandemic has reshaped much of everyday life, including how employees work and handle their affairs. Most companies have decided against returning to a 100% in-person office environment and many – if not most – employees have adapted and prefer a work-from-home model.
The need for contactless legal and identity protection services continues to increase as individuals and families face post-pandemic legal events, such as consumer finance matters, travel-related issues, and others related to children and healthcare. And as stated earlier, we’re not about to spend less time online, so our identities face ever-increasing vulnerabilities. The need for affordable access to legal services and identity and online privacy protection benefits were always needed by employees. Employees and employers are now viewing these benefits as a necessity to financial wellness benefits packages. Employers who acknowledge this reality and resolve to help protect their employees will increase the value of their benefits packages as well as the appreciation of their employees.
Emily Rose is the SVP of Sales for LegalShield’s Business Solutions Division. Ms. Rose has over 15 years of experience in the voluntary benefits space, including group legal plans, identity theft protection plans, supplemental health and property, and casualty.