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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    May 01, 2002

    Legal News and Trends

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 75, No. 5, May 2002

    Legal News & Trends

    Web site helps attorneys represent Social Security claimants

    Visit the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Web site, Social Security Online Representing Clients, for information about the SSA's hearings and appeals process.

    The site includes the Social Security Handbook, a complete list of relevant federal regulation codes, and information on the Program Operations Manual System (POMS). POMS is a primary source of information Social Security employees use to process claims for Social Security benefits. The site addresses specific questions about the representation process, including fee petitions and agreements.

    Visit the SSA Web site.

    National survey reveals most law firms offer IRS-approved
    retirement plans

    Ninety-eight percent of the nation's law firms that responded to a recent retirement and withdrawal survey offer active IRS-approved retirement plans. This represents a 13 percent increase from the last survey in 1998, according to the Altman Weil Retirement and Withdrawal Survey for Private Law Firms.

    Most popular qualified plans - Out of 12 plan types identified in the survey, four emerged as most popular among law firms:

    • camper49 percent provide combined 401(k) / profit-sharing plans;
    • 25 percent maintain 401(k)s;
    • 13 percent have money purchase pension plans; and
    • 11 percent offer profit-sharing plans.

    Firms with 100 or more lawyers overwhelmingly favor 401(k)s and 401(k) / profit-sharing combinations, while smaller firms offer a variety of retirement plan options.

    Nonqualified, unfunded plans - 28 percent of law firms also report maintaining nonqualified plans limited to highly compensated and key management employees. These plans do not qualify for preferential tax treatment, but neither are they subject to the reporting and disclosure requirements of qualified plans.

    The survey found that only 13 percent of nonqualified plans are prefunded, down from 27 percent in 1998. Nonqualified unfunded plans rely on the ability and willingness of future owners to pay benefits as they come due.

    Law firm payment caps, vesting requirements, mandatory retirement

    Nonqualified plans that cap total payments per year 71 % 38 %
    Require a minimum period of service for participation 81 % 59 %
    Average number of years of service to qualify for full benefits 16.1 years 10.3 years
    Mandatory retirement 47 % 40 %

    Mandatory retirement - As the size of the firm increases so does the likelihood of mandatory retirement. 72 percent of firms with 100 or more lawyers have such provisions, compared to only 18 percent of those with 20 or fewer lawyers.

    The survey also compares data on law firm payment caps and vesting requirements, as shown in the accompanying chart.

    This information is based on data collected from 197 law firms in the fall of 2001. Of the firms responding, 22 percent had 100 or more attorneys; 40 percent had 20-99 lawyers; and 38 percent had fewer than 20 lawyers.

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