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Publications | May 23, 2018
4 minute read

Attorney Spotlight: Lisa Zimmer on Employee Benefits and Retirement Plans

Why did you choose to become an attorney?

After college, I worked as a benefits analyst in Washington, D.C. for five years. When COBRA went into effect, I recall asking one of the in-house attorneys a question. He asked what I thought so I told him. His response was “sounds good to me.” A light went off in my head and I thought, “I can do this!” My husband and I moved back to our native Michigan where I attended Wayne State University Law School with the intention of becoming an ERISA attorney. I was one of the few students who knew exactly what type of law I wanted to practice.

What brought you to Warner?

Right after law school, I worked as an employee benefits attorney for Sachs Waldman, a very well-respected union-side labor firm. It wasn’t exactly the type of benefits law I wanted to practice, so I made a change, eventually landing at Honigman where I stayed for 10 years. In 2008, Warner recruited me and two of my partners at Honigman to help establish an employee benefits practice on the east side of the state. Warner always had a strong employee benefits presence in West Michigan, but we were excited to help build the practice here. I’ve been with Warner ever since, and I really enjoy my practice, colleagues and clients.

Tell us about your area of expertise.

My practice primarily involves retirement plans and executive compensation. I also provide ERISA counseling to registered investment advisers and broker-dealers, helping them comply with their ERISA fiduciary responsibilities in regard to their retirement plan clients. Working with advisers caused me to look at ERISA from a new and interesting perspective, which allowed me to really expand my knowledge of ERISA and the world of retirement plan services providers.

What is an employee benefits hot topic for employers right now?

Financial wellness is a hot topic. Studies show that employees are becoming increasingly anxious about their overall financial well being and retirement, which translates into distracted workers. To address this, employers are adding financial wellness programs to their existing employee wellness offerings. Now is a good time to focus on employee financial wellness. Employees are paying more for their health care expenses and are responsible for their own retirement through 401(k) plans. Employer-based financial wellness programs can improve the bottom line for both employers and employees. 

I’m also hearing a lot of buzz about student loan repayment benefits. Under a student loan repayment program, the employer contributes a certain dollar amount per year toward paying off an employee’s student loan. Today, many students are graduating from college with high interest rate student loans in the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s another way for employers to attract and retain talent.

What are some best practices that employers are using to attract and retain talent?

Multiple surveys indicate the most important benefits to employees are health care and retirement plans. The majority of workers believe employer-provided health coverage is very important. After health benefits, employees focus on retirement benefits.  Employees generally consider their employer-sponsored retirement plan as the primary way to save for retirement. So, a 401(k) plan, particularly one with matching contributions, is an important way for an employer to remain competitive. Companies that focus on creating and maintaining solid health and retirement plans attract and retain the best talent.

What is the most rewarding part of practicing in the area of employee benefits?

I really enjoy cultivating and maintaining long-term client relationships. By getting to know my clients and their industries, I am better able to serve them and foresee their needs. My job is to make my client’s job easier. One of the best ways I can do that is by working closely with each client to come up with a solution that is both practical and workable. As strange as it sounds, I also like negotiating contracts (here is where my persistence really pays off). When I get the terms I want, I celebrate my win with a little “yes!” moment (after I make sure no one is looking, of course).  I love it when clients pick up the phone and call me. After over 20 years in practice, I am still excited to help clients, and I am honored by the confidence and trust they have placed in me.