We are pleased to announce that Richard (Rich) Luna recently joined Boutwell Fay as Senior Counsel in our Irvine, California office. With nearly 20 years of experience, Rich is a seasoned advisor in employee benefits law, helping both small startups and Fortune 500 companies navigate ERISA compliance and employee benefit plan administration. His expertise includes designing compliant benefit plans, drafting essential documents, and addressing complex fiduciary issues.
Before private practice, Rich worked at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, dealing with intricate financial matters related to benefit plans. His comprehensive knowledge spans ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, and various employee benefit-related issues. Please join us in welcoming Rich to the firm! Learn more about Rich in this Q&A.
Get to Know Richard Luna
Q: Tell us about your practice.
A: Most of my practice has involved qualified plans, including defined contribution plans (particularly 401(k) plans and reviewing ESOPs) defined benefit plans (multiemployer plans and single employer plans), and health plan compliance audits. I have been involved in agency administrative proceedings (IRS, DOL, and PBGC) such as investigations, administrative hearings, and administrative appeals; drafting plan documents and amendments, SPDs, policies (such as investment policy statements and expense reimbursement policies), and other governing documents; formulating corrections when a client makes a mistake in administering their plan, governance issues, plan terminations and reviewing service provider contracts.
There are a few areas where I have been surprised to get a lot of questions. The first involves defined benefit plans. For parties contemplating mergers, spin-offs or collective bargaining, labor counsel and their clients have found it helpful to have me review publicly available documents, collective bargaining agreements, and other documents that employers have access to and “decode” the information there, to give parties in collective bargaining a picture of the state of the plan, potential pitfalls that could come up in the future and how to address these particular issues. The second area is health plans. Since leaving government, clients seem to have a lot of small and varied questions about health plan compliance, so that is a growing area for me. Finally, clients who either take loans or make loans, as part of their business might have ERISA representations that their banks require them to make. I have reviewed those and occasionally found representations that contradicted other parts of the agreement—which you might not understand if you did not understand ERISA and the regulations.
Since I came from government, particularly supervising investigations at the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, I’m very familiar with their approaches, sensitivities, and parameters for resolving investigations.
Q: Why did you join Boutwell Fay?
A: The people, the firm’s reputation, and the opportunity to be more directly involved in the firm and the client’s issues. Also, the firm’s reputation - among the employee benefits industry, they are known for both the quality of their work and leadership in the industry, particularly for a small firm. The firm’s size and approach give me the opportunity to be far more involved with clients, my own trajectory, and the direction of the firm. The fee structure gives clients and me the flexibility to devote the attention to an issue that it deserves - a powerful combination!
Q: How did your experience at the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation impact you as a lawyer in private practice?
A: My experience in government makes me think of problems from their perspective. Particularly in an enforcement case, it is important to understand what problem are they trying to address, both from a global, programmatic perspective, considering the agency’s mission, and practically, in terms of what they need to justify internally to be able to accept a resolution, and what limitations both of this considerations impose on the agency shape the resolution that’s possible. Understanding these considerations can lead to a resolution that feels like a win to both the agency and the client.
Q: What issues are affecting clients in the employee benefits area today and what should they do to address them?
A: A trend that has been growing since I started in the industry is that clients are often able to get “advice” from various sources that might not be familiar with the law or the client’s particular situation, so the advice might be wrong. Of course, the client does know the advice isn’t quite right for them until something goes wrong. Clients should seek counsel from a benefits attorney they trust before they rely on advice that is “free” and comes with a lot of disclaimers.
Also, clients are trying to understand what their obligations are under the most current health plan requirements, and what they need to do to comply with them, all while accomplishing their business objectives at a cost they can afford. The rules are constantly changing. So here again, it can help to have a benefits attorney team they trust who can keep them up to date on what applies to their situations.