The firm provides services to dozens of public employee pension plans throughout the United States in the area of plan review and legislative drafting. On both the state and local level, statutes and ordinances are reviewed for the purposes of maintaining compliance with current and pending Internal Revenue Code Regulations affecting public plans, as well as compliance with provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Older Workers Protections Act. When benefit changes occur we prepare all necessary legislative drafts and appear before the appropriate legislative body to answer questions concerning those drafts.
The primary duty of a pension fund lawyer is to ensure that the trustees do the right thing. It is our practice to prepare for all of the boards of trustees which we represent, trustee handbooks which explain the general principles of fiduciary responsibility, as well as more specific principles regarding voting conflicts, compliance with open meeting laws, conflict of interest laws, etc. We regularly apprise the boards of trustees through newsletters, memoranda and other vehicles of changes in the law, both legislatively and judicially, which impact upon their duties. We also conduct training workshops to improve the trustees’ skills in conducting disability and other benefit hearings. As a result of our regular participation and educational programs on a monthly basis, all of the materials prepared as speaker materials for those programs are distributed without additional charge to our clients. Our firm provides its clients, at no cost, an annual pension conference held in South Florida. This national event draws internationally known legal and financial experts and is attended by more than 200 trustees and administrators from throughout the United States.
It has been our experience that boards of trustees find themselves in litigation because of inconsistency in the administration of the fund. Accordingly, we have worked with our trustee clients in developing rules and regulations for the administration of the trust fund. The development of these administrative rules ensures uniformity of procedure and guarantees the due process rights of persons appearing before the board. They also serve to help organize and highlight those situations in which the legislation creating the fund may be vague or incomplete. By utilizing rule making powers, the board of trustees can help give definition and more practical application to sometimes vague legislative language.
In the course of its duties, the board of trustees will be called upon from time to time to interpret various provisions of the ordinance or statute which governs its conduct. The board will also be presented with various factual situations which do not lend themselves to easy interpretation. As a result, counsel to the board is responsible for issuing legal opinions to assist the trustees in performing their function in managing the trust. It is our practice to maintain an orderly system of the issuance of legal opinions so that they can form part of the overall body of law that guides the trustees. As changes in the law occur, it is our practice to update those legal opinions to ensure that the subjects which they cover are in conformance with the current state of the law.
Despite the best efforts and intentions of the trustees, there will be times when the board finds itself as either a plaintiff or defendant in a legal action. We have successfully defended boards of trustees in claims for benefits, actions regarding under-funding and failure of plan fiduciaries to fulfill their responsibilities to the trust. The firm has substantial state and federal court trial experience, and regularly argues complex appellate matters on both the state and federal levels. We pride ourselves on the vigorous representation of our clients while maintaining close watch on the substantial costs that are often associated with litigation.
Federal law and many state laws require that pension plans provide their members with a plain language explanation of their benefits and rights under the plan. Part of the responsibilities of a fiduciary is to ensure that plan members understand their rights and the benefits which they have earned. It has been our practice to develop for each of our clients a plain language summary plan description which is easily updatable as plan provisions change. We are also advising plans on liability issues associated with electronic communication between funds and members as part of our continuing effort at efficient risk management.