Legal Forethought

| April 07, 2005

The driver who acknowledges the need for a lawyer is faced with the daunting task of finding one with industry and jurisdictional knowledge. In truckstop kiosks and industry trade magazines an array of services called ticketed defense, legal services or pre-paid plans have sprung up since the 1980s. The level of service varies depending on the organization a driver chooses. Like medical plans, legal plans vary and can present a confusing thicket of coverage.

One important information resource is the Internet. Websites like www.lawyers.com let drivers search for attorneys by municipality and specialty. “The lawyers.com website can help drivers find attorneys and evaluate their credentials based upon what attorneys are listed in their municipalities,” says Daryn Teague, public relations consultant for Martindale and Hubbell, the company providing the information database of lawyers for www.lawyers.com.

Some attorneys also have personal home pages where you can find out more information about them. But this preliminary research should be followed up by a one-on-one discussion with the attorney. “Most attorneys give a free initial consultation,” Teague says.

The National Traffic Attorney Network’s website, www.NTAN.org, gives out the names of attorneys in municipalities across the country, says manager Bob Miller. NTAN receives a fee from attorneys to list their names in its catalog. There is no fee to the driver for this service.

“All of our lawyers are trial lawyers,” Miller says. “They all spend a lot of time in traffic court but are able to handle cases from tickets and DOT violations through illegal search and seizures all the way to fatalities.” Miller says drivers are responsible for negotiating fees with the lawyer they choose and for court costs and related fees. It is illegal for a legal service or insurance to pay a client’s fines and court costs, according to Morgan at Pre-Paid Legal.

Ticket Defense Services’ office manager Beth Reed says its service also finds lawyers in the municipality where a driver’s offense occurred. They add a flat fee payable by the driver on top of the referral fee paid to the lawyer. Their attorneys handle a full range of cases.

American Truckers’ Legal Services is a pay-in-advance service. For a monthly fee, drivers have access to attorneys across the country. Owner Millard Dean says ATLS uses attorneys who understand the trucking industry. “We have attorneys for every county in the country unless the court deals directly with us,” Dean says. “If a driver uses our services we charge for eight months, but any other ticket he gets in that eight months is included in the fee.”

Dean qualifies the pay-in-advance designation this way: “Some drivers pay a monthly fee. This fee covers only tickets and DOT violations. Sometimes we will ask a driver for more money if he has not paid enough in monthly fees. For more serious offenses, we work with the driver and the attorney to have the attorney’s fees reduced.”

Pre-Paid Legal began service to truckers in 1986. Since then other organizations called pre-paid legal have spun off from the original. The original service uses a hyphen between Pre and Paid to distinguish itself. Pre-Paid pays its lawyers retainers to ensure they provide a high level of service to clients. Like other legal services, Pre-Paid has attorneys across the country. But, Morgan says, “We evaluate every local attorney every month. We use local attorneys well versed in traffic law who win cases.” As examples, Morgan cited two recent cases, one in California in which a $16,000 overweight fine was reduced to $2,500 and another in New York in which a $6,000 fine was reduced to $2,100.

Pre-Paid offers full payment of attorney’s fees for serious charges like manslaughter and negligent homicide. “We have paid $74,000 in attorney’s fees in a fatality defense,” Morgan says. “Pre-Paid will pay 100 percent of attorney’s fees if there are no other criminal charges involved.”

Whatever the smart driver decides, he will do well to remember Ed Morgan’s advice: “Drivers must realize that having a legal service is not a license to drive unsafely. We do not condone unsafe driving. And the legal climate is much stricter than it was 15 years ago. There is less any lawyer can do nowadays. But that is all the more reason to have good legal representation.”


Cover Your Main Asset

1.Possessing a CDL is a privilege, not a right. It can be taken away from you. Don’t take for granted that you will always have it – consider ways to protect it.

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