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Lawyering Part 3: Prepaid Legal Services

If you are skilled and experienced professional, you can easily spot an impostor in your trade. A good carpenter can spot a hack from a mile away. A seasoned trucker can spot a novice from even further away. The carpenter may have a union card and the trucker may have a CDL, but that does not mean they are good at what they do. The same rings true for lawyers, and the article this week will discuss what happens when truckers routinely hire less than adequate representation through prepaid legal services.

Ask a police officer about the last time someone walked up to him on the street and started talking shop. Most off-duty police officers don’t purposefully beeline to unformed police personnel just to talk policing. However, those who want to be police officers or are involved in private security do it all the time. Any policeman with an ounce of discernment can see it coming from a mile away.

This is not to disparage people testing to be the police or working in security. It’s just police officers know their own by the way a person walks and talks. Just as police officers can subconsciously identify another police officer, they can also sniff out an attorney in court who knows nothing about truck laws.

Not all policemen are created equal. Some excel at criminal investigations. Some are fantastic community liaisons. Some are great truck officers. It takes all kinds of police officers to make a well-rounded, full service police department.

Similarly, there are a lot of attorney types out there. There are tax attorneys, real estate attorneys, divorce attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Within the subset of criminal attorneys there are those who specialize in murder, DUI or traffic. Just because an attorney has passed the bar and can legally stand before the judge as an officer of the court does not mean he has a clue about truck law.

So what does this have to do with prepaid legal services? Well, if you are a trucker barely scraping by, one traffic ticket worth of fines can sink you. The temptation to pay a monthly rate to guarantee legal defense is attractive.

The problem is not the philosophy of the prepaid legal business model. The problem is the lack of guarantee you will be assigned an attorney who knows anything about truck laws. Yes, a speeding ticket for a CDL holder has far greater consequences than regular drivers. Yes, most criminal attorneys can probably find their way around court for a simple speeder.

But what about an oversize or overweight ticket? What about a CDL violation? These violations may carry significant CDL ramifications and financial penalties. The law regarding these violations are complicated and there are very few attorneys who have even a basic handle on them.

It takes a skilled truck officer all of five seconds to figure out if an attorney has the guts, knowledge or diplomacy skills to make sure you get the fair deal. Prepaid attorneys may show up and try to work out a plea deal. That’s okay provided the citation is legit and not incorrect, but a middle-of-the-road attorney probably doesn’t know. Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you are assigned one of these obnoxious attorneys who likes to come to court, be loud and make a scene. Volume is a cover for a lack of ability. He hopes the police and prosecutors will cower and do whatever he wants just to make the case go away. Good chance they will probably dig in and call his bluff.  Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you get the self-righteous attorney who shows up with a half-baked, asinine interpretation of a truck law and tries to bamboozle the far more knowledgeable police officer. Not good for you Mr. Trucker.

There is nothing inherently wrong with prepaid legal defense work for CDL holders. There is nothing wrong with an attorney subscribed to these services looking for work to pay their bills. Everyone needs to eat.

What a wise trucker needs to do is make sure the monthly fee he is paying will guarantee a real truck defense attorney. One who is local, has much previous experience and knows his way around the world of truck enforcement. Or maybe you should call the ITEA first and find out who the good attorneys are.

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