A Different Kind of Court-Ready

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.6, August 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1306/bbcourtready.htm

Justice may be blind, but it isn’t always free. Legal representation, even for a client in the right, can cost a few hundred dollars an hour, and coaches can be especially vulnerable to lawsuits.

That’s why basketball coaches’ associations in a handful of states have responded to the pitch of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. They are telling members about a plan in which, for a monthly fee of about $25, Pre-Paid Legal will help provide legal advice and representation. If it takes more time than covered by the agreement, the member will be charged a discounted hourly rate.

For the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan, the clincher was the chance to help coaches get legal advice without worrying if the question is worth the cost of consulting a lawyer, says Tom Hursey, Executive Director. “It’s kind of a backup, to be able to talk to somebody,” Hursey says.

It also helps in cases where the employer won’t cover a coach, especially when his or her performance is in question, Hursey continues. “In the past, it seemed like schools really backed their coaches without question,” he says. “But now they’re not stepping up in as many cases, so the coach needs a lawyer. At $300 an hour, it adds up quickly, and in many cases, the coach just ends up saying, ‘The heck with it. I’m out of here.’”

Pre-Paid Legal doesn’t use the term “legal insurance,” but some people look at it as a sort of HMO for legal representation, says Ed Kavanaugh, a former teacher and basketball coach who represents the company in Michigan. Many coaches work part-time or aren’t covered by their school’s legal counsel for some other reason, he says. Plus, the Pre-Paid agreement is comprehensive, offering legal help whether the problem is personal or work-related.

The need for some sort of legal representation for coaches became apparent at a recent board meeting of the Basketball Coaches Association of New York (BCANY), says Executive Director Dave Archer. A coach who was in danger of being disciplined wondered if he had any recourse other than hiring a lawyer. Archer had heard about Pre-Paid Legal’s plan and thought that at $300 a year, it seemed like a good deal, he says.

As in Michigan, the New York association isn’t running the program or officially endorsing it. Instead, it’s simply making it available to members. But BCANY will receive a small fee for each coach who signs on, Archer says.