Public Pension Plans
Public pension plans are the primary source of retirement income for governmental employees, including first responders, and a significant piece of these employees’ overall compensation. Jackson Walker appreciates how important these retirement benefits are to public servants and is uniquely committed to serving the legal needs of public pension plans.
Jackson Walker public pension attorneys understand the complex issues and statutory limitations that face public pension plans and appreciate the work of the trustees who are tasked with overseeing them. We have significant experience in representing clients in all aspects of law that impact public pension plans, including four primary categories: (1) Plan Administration, (2) Fiduciary, (3) Tax, and (4) Investments.
Whatever your public pension needs are, Jackson Walker attorneys are here to help.
From plan design to benefit administration to funding and actuarial matters, our public pension attorneys are well-equipped to assist your plan with any plan administrative matters that may arise.
We regularly advise clients on plan design and funding issues and assist with drafting desired amendments to the plan document, statute, ordinance, or administrative rules. In many cases, this involves assisting clients in navigating the legislative process and working with municipalities or other governmental plan sponsors to achieve the desired goals.
We work closely with the administrative staff of public pension plans to provide guidance on various benefit administration issues and interpretations of statutory language, such as benefit eligibility questions, benefit elections and calculations, beneficiary designations, disability determinations, administrative errors, qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), benefit claims and appeals, and open records requests.
We also regularly assist plans in drafting, reviewing, and negotiating contracts with outside service providers, such as actuaries, accountants, investment advisors, and technology consultants, to ensure the plan’s assets are adequately protected and that certain state law considerations, such as sovereign immunity, public record laws, and indemnification limitations, are properly addressed.
Our public pension attorneys are intimately familiar with fiduciary standards and requirements under applicable state law. In connection with representation as fiduciary counsel, we provide training and education to trustees regarding their fiduciary responsibilities, draft and review board governance and ethics policies, and counsel trustees in addressing fiduciary and ethical issues.
We also regularly attend board meetings for clients to provide immediate fiduciary guidance and to assist with any open government issues that may arise. Our attorneys are well-equipped to assist trustees with board governance issues and to ensure trustees and administrative staff members act in the best interest of members and beneficiaries, proceed in a prudent manner and comply with applicable law.
Jackson Walker attorneys are well-versed in the tax qualification requirements and governmental plan rules required for a plan to maintain favorable tax status under federal tax law, including, for example, required minimum distribution rules, Section 415 limitations, and rollover requirements. We have significant experience working with clients to ensure their plan document is in compliance with all legal tax requirements.
We also assist clients in ensuring the plan is operated in accordance with its terms. Inevitably, operational mistakes are made and should be corrected. We routinely advise clients on corrective measures under the IRS’ Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS), whether through self-correction or the Voluntary Compliance Program (VCP), to avoid potential qualification issues in the future.
Our public pension attorneys are highly skilled in all investment areas with respect to public pension plans and are especially suited to assist trustees in fulfilling their fiduciary duties to the plan with respect to investing and managing the plan’s assets for the benefit of the plan participants and beneficiaries.
We represent clients in all stages of the investment process, including assisting with due diligence matters for outside investment managers and consultants, reviewing and negotiating investment management agreements for public equity managers and limited partnership agreements and related side letters for private-market investment funds. Due to our extensive experience, we are able to ensure the terms are within market standard and satisfy legal requirements applicable to governmental entities. We also assist clients with the review and development of investment policies to ensure the overall investment process is consistent with fiduciary standards.
- Attend monthly or quarterly board meetings regularly for public pension clients, including providing “on the spot” guidance with respect to plan administration, fiduciary, ethics, and open meetings issues
- Advise board of local public pension plan on legal, fiduciary and administrative issues related to disability determinations for psychological disabilities, including review of current policy to identify potential concerns and preparation of revised policy to address such issues
- Review qualified domestic relation orders, assist with disability determinations, and handle a variety of matters involving benefits for member and beneficiaries for municipal public pension plan
- Restate investment policy and ethics policy for large statewide retirement system, including review and analysis of existing policies, propose changes based on legal, fiduciary and governance implications, and draft related changes
- Draft and develop legislation to ensure qualified plan compliance for municipal retirement systems and assist such systems in navigating the legislative process, including educating bill sponsors on the purpose of the legislation and serving as a resource witness for committee hearings
- Assist in restating administrative rules for statewide pension system as a result of amended legislation and plan qualification issues and advise the board of the legal and fiduciary implications of such restatement
- Obtain favorable determination from the Internal Revenue Service with respect to determination of the qualified status of a statewide governmental pension plan, including preparation of the request for determination letter and related submission under the Voluntary Correction Program
- Negotiate for a public retirement system funding from municipal plan sponsor in connection with requested plan feature, including detailed analysis of actuarial cost study, drafting of related agreements between a retirement system and municipality, and preparing legislative package to reflect new funding mechanism
- Assist in the formation of a new governmental pension plan for an emergency services district, including serving as fiduciary counsel to the board, drafting of original plan document, ensuring satisfaction of plan qualification requirements (including submission of the determination letter filing with the IRS), and negotiating with relevant parties regarding the plan structure
- Provide fiduciary and ethics training for board of trustees of large municipal retirement systems
- Advise board of trustees on fiduciary and other legal considerations in decision to diversify into alternative investment asset classes, including related review and restatement of investment policy
- Review and negotiate investment management agreements, private equity (buy-out, venture capital, distressed and mezzanine debt, real estate, and fund of funds) and hedge fund documentation (both domestic and foreign) and negotiate side letters to address open meeting and public information act limitations on confidentiality obligations, indemnity limitations, sovereign immunity rights, fiduciary and governance issues and other public and general investor concerns
- Identify potential conflicts of interest in certain investments and assist clients with required disclosures and other steps necessary to ensure compliance with applicable ethics laws and a board of trustees’ code of conduct
- Negotiate and review service agreements for various plan providers, advising clients on legal aspects of agreements, including the availability of sovereign immunity and the limitations on liabilities and indemnification under state law
- Represent retirement plans in disputes involving breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty issues, including matters concerning the suitability of investments, the reasonability of fees charged, and the misuse of fiduciary authority
- Frequently represent plans and administrators of plans in cases involving claims for plan benefits
- Represent K-12 School System in IRS audit of 403(b) plans
- Counsel regarding Social Security Opt-Out plans.