Hiring an ERISA Attorney: Why Experience Matters

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019

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The complexities of ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, are great and generally require the counsel of an experienced attorney whose practice focuses on ERISA to guide you through the process. So, how can an experienced attorney help?

Attorney Ron Dean

Ron Dean, a California attorney who has been engaged in employee benefits litigation primarily on behalf of participants for over 30 years, has been representing people in these kinds of claims for over 37 years – even before ERISA became law. In a recent interview, Dean told us, “Over that time, I’ve come to realize that plans have a huge advantage over the people who are asking for benefits from the plans. Plans do this for a living, but claimants have one, maybe two claims in their whole lives. Worse, fundamental justice just doesn’t apply in ERISA claims, so you can’t rely on your common sense to guide you through the process.”

Experience matters

In his experience with ERISA claims, Dean says that not only should you talk to a lawyer; you should talk to someone who has experience in these kinds of claims. He explained, “Too often I’ve seen otherwise very good lawyers not understand the tricks of the ERISA trade and so go in the wrong direction. Many ERISA lawyers are happy to help out with some basic guidance without charge. There’s a lot to learn in a quick ten or fifteen minute phone call with an expert. He or she can help you decide what’s involved, whether you have a strong case and what the next steps are.”

“It’s important to get a lawyer to at least review your case and your appeal before you submit that final appeal. The lawyer will provide an objective evaluation of the problem, and how it should be addressed. Once the final appeal is over, it’s usually too late to get in evidence the lawyer thinks should have been submitted and too late to make arguments that should have been included.”

How are ERISA attorneys compensated?

Most ERISA lawyers are willing to work either on an hourly fee basis or a contingency fee basis if you have a strong case, according to Dean. He said, “In a contingency fee case, the lawyer only gets paid if you win the case, and then gets a percentage of what you win. If the case is lost, you don’t own fees. Because the lawyer is taking a risk of loss, a contingency fee will nearly always be more than the fee would have been on a straight hourly basis.”

“You should discuss this carefully with the lawyer and try out different scenarios to see how much the fee would be in different cases. For example, in a strong case, you may want to pay the lawyer an hourly fee to help you with the appeal and, only if the appeal is denied, then talk to the lawyer about a contingency fee.”

If you’ve been denied valid benefits that are subject to ERISA, contact an attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential. To contact a qualified attorney to discuss your situation, please click here.

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