Unfortunately, I have gotten involved in the politics of my local village which contains so much conflicts of interest and cronyism, it reminds me of the retirement plan business when I started in 1998. A lot of the fighting goes on Facebook and as an attorney, there is nothing funnier that non-attorneys who profess their knowledge of the law and get it completely wrong. I had someone threaten to sue me for age discrimination because I mentioned they were retired. This is what you have to deal with. As an ERISA attorney, I also have to deal with attorneys who think they know retirement plans and they don’t.
I have been practicing in the ERISA field for over 16 years and that is all I have done since I first started working after getting my tax LLM degree at Boston University.
When people find out that I’m an attorney, they often ask question that have nothing to do with ERISA. While I can probably pass the state bar again if I have to, I have forgotten more about the law outside of tax than I actually remember. So when people ask me for legal advice outside of tax, I refer the matter out.
On the flip side, just because someone is an attorney doesn’t mean they know ERISA or the Internal Revenue Code as it pertains to retirement plans. Yet when my services come up for a business that has general counsel, I often find the reaction that the general counsel feels that my services aren’t required because they claim that most companies their size don’t get sued over their retirement plan.
I get that reaction a lot. Heck I worked at a semi-prestigious law firm with some snooty lawyers who could never turn down a free meal, but turned down opportunities to refer my services to their clients. Let’s not forget how badly their 401(k) plan was run before I reviewed it (no advisor, no education to participants, no review of investment options for 10 years, and no investment policy statement). From what I heard, they are still having problems because the human resources director is still doing a “fantastic” job running it.
An ERISA attorney isn’t the right person to ask about a criminal matter or adoption and a non-ERISA attorney isn’t the best person to ask if the retirement plan that your company has is being run efficiently and what the liability threats.
Heck, there have been attorneys sued by the Department of Labor (DOL) for embezzling and transferring retirement plan assets. They didn’t know much about ERISA.