Thunderbird Case

Accounting for Multilevel Marketing Activities at Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc.

Case #: 
A01-13-0006
Fields: 
Accounting and control
Author(s): 
Graeme Rankine
Abstract: 

In October 2009, Andrew Amphlett, a financial analyst at Southern Cross LLC, and a recent MBA graduate, was asked to prepare an analysis of Pre-Paid Legal Services' financial performance and its accounting methods. Pre-Paid Legal Services recruited associates to market its legal plans to consumers who paid about $21 per month for access to the network of independent legal firms who supplied legal services for a fixed fee. In effect, Pre-Paid Legal Services was a multilevel marketing organization, or what is often perjoratively called a “pyramid scheme.” Southern Cross planned to consider adding the company to its shorts portfolio after Price Target Research maintained a hold rating and established a price target of $36 per share. The shorts fund included companies that Southern Cross thought were headed for substantial stock price declines based on fundamental analysis. By October 2009, Pre-Paid Legal’s stock price was trading at $43 per share, significantly higher than Price Target Research’s recently established target price of $36 per share. Southern Cross’s portfolio manager had asked Amphlett to pay close attention to the company’s accounting methods, and particularly to its policy of capitalizing and amortizing indirect outlays, instead of expensing them immediately. Pre-Paid Legal had experienced several disagreements with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) over its accounting policies. In 2002, it restated its financial statements at the request of the SEC, and Deloitte & Touche, its independent accounting firm, resigned from the account. In October 2009, the Division of Enforcement of the SEC requested information from Pre-Paid Legal Services about its financial, business, and accounting policies.

Teaching: 
  • To understand how a company makes money, its strategy for achieving this, and the implications for the company’s financial performance,
  • To analyze a company’s growth, its ability to generate cash flows, and its recent financial performance,
  • To evaluate a company’s accounting methods and their impact on a company’s financial performance,
  • To develop a communication and disclosure strategy for dealing with critics of the company’s accounting policies,
  • To evaluate the intrinsic value of a company’s equity security relative to its current stock price.
Industry: 
Business services
Setting: 
Geographic U.S.
Length: 
12 pages
Source: 
Published material
Published: 
2013
Subject: 
Accounting and Control