Dave Anders, director of human resources at University Surgical Associates, an independent physicians' office in Louisville, wanted to respond to employees already covered by their spouses' health insurance who were asking for an alternative benefit. So last year he added legal services as an option.

Why a legal plan? "It's not a lot of paperwork, it's low cost, and you don't have to worry about preexisting conditions or variable rates," he says. Anders updates the membership roster each month and pays $12 a month per employee. Anders says the staffers see it as a special perk.

An 800 number refers employees to local legal-plan lawyers who have agreed to offer unlimited phone or office consulting in areas such as drawing up a will, debt collection, sale or purchase of a house, and adoptions.

About 10% of the eligible employees have opted for the legal plan. One staffer has used the service to draw up a will, and another to sell a house.

Fortune 500 companies have offered legal benefits for years, often as a way to sweeten the pot after slashing health insurance. Small companies interested in the benefit should contact the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute (API), an affiliate of the American Bar Association, to obtain a list of companies that administer legal plans. Send a business-size, stamped, self-addressed envelope to API at 541 North Fairbanks Court, Chicago, IL 60611. -- Phaedra Hise

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