Practice/Industry Group Overview
GrayRobinson's Employee Benefits practice group has extensive experience in the area of employee benefits and is one of the largest practices in Florida. Recognized as a statewide leader in this particular field, our team is experienced in qualified and nonqualified retirement plans, stock option and other executive compensation plans and fringe and welfare benefit plans.
Although our attorneys have experience in all aspects of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), each concentrates on certain subspecialty areas, which include ERISA litigation, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), benefit issues relating to corporate acquisitions, nonqualified arrangements, fringe and welfare benefit plans, etc. We believe this approach permits us to provide the highest-quality service in these areas. Our paralegals are highly skilled ERISA technicians with extensive experience who also have significant previous experience in the retirement plan record-keeping industry. Their skills make them an invaluable resource and greatly assist in reducing client legal costs.
Our attorneys in this department focuses on the design, drafting, implementation and operation of all types of retirement and welfare benefit plans. The firm currently represents approximately 30 "qualified" retirement plans. We represent plans maintained by publicly traded and privately held employers, tax-exempt employers and governmental employers.
Our Employee Benefits department is highly regarded for its ingenuity and innovation. We believe that our depth and breadth of experience allow us to develop imaginative solutions to difficult problems - enabling us to be uniquely responsive to our clients' needs. The Department has a significant level of interaction and long term relationships with the national and regional offices of the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor. These relationships have often proven beneficial to our clients, and our reputation is such that our opinions are often solicited by both governmental agencies and professional associations on matters of policy. In addition, our attorneys speak regularly at local and national continuing education conferences on employee benefits issues. Further, our attorneys have published various articles and treatises on all types of employee benefits plan issues.
We also have significant experience in the welfare benefit area, including cafeteria plans, health plans (including self-insured arrangements), disability plans, severance plans, life insurance plans, VEBAs, HRAs, HSAs, etc. While all of our attorneys have a large amount of experience in this area, Lowell "The ERISA Dude" Walters practices extensively in the welfare benefit field, regularly analyzing complex issues, including nondiscrimination rules, permitted midyear election changes, and compliance with federal mandates such as COBRA, HIPAA, FMLA and the Medicare Secondary Payer Rules.
Our experienced ERISA litigation practice covers the full range of employee benefits litigation. GrayRobinson represents the interests of employers, plans and third-party administrators in benefit claim disputes. Our knowledge of ERISA's civil remedy provisions and the unique standards of review that govern ERISA claim disputes allows us to provide cost-efficient counseling while fully developing all available legal defenses. We also have substantial experience advising health plans on how to maximize their subrogation and reimbursement rights under ERISA.
Because we represent numerous large employers, we have a significant practice in the area of nonqualified deferred compensation. This has been a very active practice area due to the enactment of relatively recent legislation (e.g., IRC §409A). We believe that we were among the first in Florida to provide comprehensive counsel with respect to plan design options available to sponsors or potential sponsors of nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements subject to these new requirements.
Due to the proliferation of 401(k) plans over the past 20 years, designing, implementing and advising these arrangements constitute the largest part of our practice. We represent over 200 401(k) plans, including numerous arrangements maintained by very large employers. Recently, 401(k) plans have received a tremendous amount of publicity resulting from fiduciary responsibility litigation. We have been very active in implementing practices and procedures designed to promote compliance with the applicable fiduciary standards. A large portion of our 401(k) plan practice involves resolving qualification issues arising as a result of corporate mergers and/or acquisitions. This is an extremely complicated area due, in part, to the paucity of clarifying administrative pronouncements. Our Chair, Rick Burke, has extensive experience in this area resulting from his longtime representation of several large, national publicly, traded companies.
Employee Stock Ownership Plan ("ESOP")
Our ESOP practice is one of the strongest in the state of Florida. In the past 10 years we have been involved in the establishment of many new ESOPs, with the result that we have a number of continuing ESOP clients. Companies whose ESOPs we helped establish over the past 10 year have total value approaching 1 billion. The ESOP team is led by Mike Canan, and he is regularly assisted by members of the Employee Benefits group from time to time, and, in addition, has been assisted by Bill Grimm and Richard Rodgers (securities and business), David Ottinger (corporate and bank matters), Lee Bennett (corporate and bank matters) and Lisa Specht (general tax). Representative clients include or have included Holiday Builders, Inc., ESOP; Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Inc., ESOP.
We have depth of experience and have worked extensively with retirement plans and nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements sponsored by nonprofit, governmental, and religiously-affiliated organizations.