The function of a lawyer, as well as the definition and function of a pension plan, will differ somewhat from one jurisdiction to another. In general, however, the responsibilities of pension lawyers are very similar throughout the various countries that recognize pension plans. The primary responsibility of pension lawyers is to ensure that the pension plan complies with all the laws within the jurisdiction where it is administered. In order to ensure compliance with all relevant laws, pension lawyers must be knowledgeable in many different areas of the law including employment law, tax law, and securities law, among others.
A pension plan, as a rule, is a private or public arrangement which provides employees with regular income after they retire. Both government employers and private employers have historically offered employees a pension plan as one of the many benefits included with working for the company or agency. Some pension plans are funded entirely by the employer, while others offer employees the option to contribute to the plan. Usually, a plan where the employee contributes is considered a "retirement plan"; however, the responsibilities associated with pension lawyers are virtually the same, regardless of whether the plan is funded by the employer or by employee contributions as well.
The money used to fund a pension is usually invested by the employer in order to have the necessary funds available for employees when they are ready to start collecting their pensions. As a result, pension lawyers must advise employers regarding the laws associated with controlling money, as well as investing money that is designated for the benefit others. Employers have a fiduciary responsibility to handle the funds appropriately and for the benefit of the employees. A violation of the fiduciary responsibility can incur both civil penalties and, in some cases, criminal charges.
Pension plans also have tax consequences for both the employer and employee. Another important job of pension lawyers is to inform their clients of the tax laws as they apply to the contributions made to the pension plan. Most employers also offer information to their employees regarding the tax implications of early withdrawal of pension funds, so a pension lawyer will need to be sure that the employer understands those laws as well.
Employment laws may also be important when determining the rules of a pension plan. Some jurisdictions have age discrimination laws that must be taken into consideration when determining at what age an employee may voluntarily begin to receive his or her pension, or at what age an employee is required to begin accepting pension distributions. Pension lawyers must be sure that their client understands these laws so as not to become involved in age discrimination litigation.