March 8, 2013

Four on Friday: Patti Keesler of Benefits Law Group

Patricia K. Keesler color photo (small)Patti Keesler is the founder and managing
shareholder of Benefits Law Group, a
boutique employee-benefits law firm based in Atlanta. In
today’s Four on Friday, we ask Patti four questions about her firm, how she
became a lawyer, healthcare reform and — perhaps most important of all — whether
she prefers the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

HS: Give us an overview of The Benefits
Law Group: what led you to start the firm, and what services does the firm

Benefits Law
Group is a law firm specializing in the area of employee benefits and executive
compensation. We provide advice to employers on designing, implementing and
maintaining health and retirement plans for their employees.

Thanks to
Congress, almost every year or so since the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act passed in 1974, the governmental agencies regulating employee benefits
issue a massive amount of regulations. Therefore, much of our practice focuses
on regulatory compliance and keeping our clients out of trouble with the IRS
and the Department of Labor.

However, we
also work with actuaries, accountants and administrators of benefit plans, and we
will draft and review the contracts between those vendors and employers. A
portion of our practice involves the administration of qualified domestic relations
orders  — the division of retirement plan
assets in divorce — on behalf of several large employers.

I started
Benefits Law Group 13 years ago because I was unhappy with the large firm
environment. At that time, very few firms offered a flexible work
environment, in any meaningful way, to allow lawyers with families a more
balanced lifestyle while maintaining a high-level legal practice. It was in
that spirit we opened the firm: to allow every employee a flexible work
environment and balanced lifestyle while maintaining a high-level practice of
law. We attracted mostly women lawyers from large firms, and while it was very
challenging breaking new ground, we have thrived over the years, have very
loyal clients and have a high level of satisfaction with our work.

HS: What led you to decide to become a

I became a
lawyer by accident really. I was a general arts major in college expecting to
join our family business, which was a construction-equipment dealership. My
older brothers had other ideas about my role in the business, so I went to law
school, intending to "out-educate" my brothers and demand a larger
role in the business.

Along the
way, I grew to like the idea of practicing law and not working in
the business. In particular, I liked my tax classes. So after graduation,
I went to work for the Office of Chief Counsel in the Internal Revenue Service
in Washington D.C. at just about the time the employee-benefits area was
starting to grow exponentially.

HS: How will the federal healthcare
reform law affect your firm's workload and what kind of an impact will it have
on your clients?

So far,
healthcare reform has not had a significant effect on the firm's workload since
much of the more challenging parts of the law are not yet in place. We are
often asked to give our clients our opinion when their consultants disagree.

I do think
that healthcare reform will significantly change the way healthcare is provided
and paid for in this country. Employers will be challenged with coming up with
new ways of offering health care coverage and paying for it. Although this has
been an ongoing challenge for employers for years, I think we are going to see
completely new ideas coming out of this law. I do not expect employers to stop
providing health care coverage completely, as some have predicted.

HS: Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Hands down — Beatles.

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