NU Online News Service, Sept. 27, 5:30 p.m. – An executive at Hyatt Legal Plans Inc., Cleveland, says years of employer education seem to be paying off in the group legal benefits market.

Hewitt Associates L.L.C., Lincolnshire, Ill, reported earlier this year that 12% of large employers now offer some kind of group legal benefit.

Annual enrollment growth at existing plans averages 10%, and some plans have doubled in size this year, according to Marcia Messett, Hyatt’s sales and marketing director.

Back in the early 1990s, Hyatt’s sales reps spent most of their time telling employers what a group legal plan was.

“Now, they know what it is,” Messett says. “Interest among companies and employers for offering a group legal benefit is very high.”

Hyatt was formed 25 years ago by a lawyer who wanted to make routine personal legal services as accessible as health insurance had made routine medical services. A typical group legal plan provides free or inexpensive access to lawyers who can handle legal basics such as real estate closings and simple wills.

Hyatt competes with many group legal vendors of all sizes, including ARAG Insurance Company, Des Moines, Iowa, and Pre-paid Legal Services Inc., Ada, Okla.

MetLife Inc., New York, gave the industry its seal of approval in 1997, by acquiring Hyatt.

Today, Hyatt sells through MetLife’s group sales representatives as well as its own reps and its own network of agents, brokers and benefits consultants. Thanks to the MetLife connection, marketing “has definitely been sped up,” Messett says.

One new feature is Family Matters, a program that gives plan members the ability to buy discounted estate planning documents and estate-planning legal services for parents at a discounted rate.

Hyatt began by testing a Family Matters pilot program, but now it is offering the program to all of its customers, Messett says.