Jorge Leon Photo

Jorge M. Leon

Partner
Chair, Diversity & Inclusion Committee
Group Co-Leader, Employee Benefits

Overview

Jorge is skilled at successfully managing and staffing the full service benefit and compensation needs of clients ranging from small operations to large multinational companies. Clients have entrusted Jorge and his team to oversee the design and administration of their health and welfare programs, executive compensation arrangements, and retirement plans. 

Plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries, insurers and third-party recordkeepers turn to Jorge for strategic counsel on designing, establishing, and maintaining benefit and compensation plans. Clients laud his responsiveness and meticulous approach to matters ranging from plan establishment and design to government investigations and inquiries, ongoing compliance and qualification, ERISA litigation, and mergers and acquisitions.

Before joining Michael Best, Jorge practiced for 15 years at a premiere Chicago-based AmLaw 100 firm, where he was the lead partner for qualified plan matters. He brings a strong record of successful outcomes, an uncompromising level of service, and improved cost efficiency to his current practice.

As a leading ERISA practitioner and thought-leader on diversity, Jorge’s opinions and views are frequently sought by nationally recognized publishers, journalists and professional organizations.

As a general problem-solver, clients also turn to Jorge for their non-benefit needs.  Recent matters Jorge has successfully staffed have dealt with corporate/commercial law, real estate, immigration, employment law, turnarounds, and commercial, securities and employment litigation.

Deep knowledge, broad experience

Jorge is well versed in the intricacies of 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), and defined benefit plans. Within the benefit and compensation arena, his practice includes:

  • Negotiating ERISA 3(21) and 3(38) investment advisor/manager agreements, as well as the benefit aspects of sizable corporate transactions
  • Counseling clients on the administrative, design, legal, and testing considerations of recordkeeping conversions
  • Negotiating third-party recordkeeping agreements relating to plans holding between $1 million to $5 billion in assets
  • Supervising the transition of insurers/claims administrators for health and welfare plans
  • Restructuring health and welfare plans to achieve cost efficiencies and legal compliance
 
  • Resolving various audit, administrative, and compliance issues involving qualification, fiduciary, and reporting issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)
  • Designing fiduciary policies and internal controls for plan sponsors, fiduciaries, and administrators
  • Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS), Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), and prohibited transactions
  • Counseling clients on design options for safe harbor plans, including 401(k)(12), and Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangements (QACA)
  • Advising employer-trustees in establishing and maintaining Taft-Hartley plans
  • Advising public, privately-held and higher education clients on various qualification, correction, and administrative issues and plan communication strategies
  • Advising hedge fund and venture capital clients on the ERISA plan asset rules and on state open disclosure requirements

Experience

Proactively counseling to avoid litigation

During the recent wave of ERISA fee litigation in the higher education industry, administrative and investment committees and related fiduciaries have actively sought out Jorge’s counsel in light of his work and experience during the first wave of fee litigation that started in 2006. Specifically, Jorge has addressed how to establish committees, the applicable governance and standards of conduct and best practices to minimize the risk of being sued.

Guiding executive relations

When sensitive benefit and compensation issues arise for executives and members of the leadership team, Jorge has been called upon to navigate and balance expectations, non-discrimination rules and relations between leadership and staff. This has encompassed one-on-one counseling and messaging and the development of legally-compliant creative corrections and third-party financial arrangements.

Advising a major municipality

Jorge counseled the largest municipal employer in Illinois on the design and fiduciary aspects of its 457(b) plan, with over $4 billion in assets.

Breaking new ground in ERISA issues

When a then-unknown plaintiff law firm targeted numerous large employers and plans with class actions claiming excessive fees and mismanagement of 401(k) plans, Jorge provided subject matter advice to both a client and their litigation team on this seminal ERISA action, resulting in the parties reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. Ultimately, the DOL stepped in with a new set of groundbreaking fee disclosure rules under ERISA.

Taking on the IRS

Jorge mounted a successful defense of a client’s safe harbor 401(k) plan with approximately $4 billion in assets and more than 30,000 participants during an IRS audit that resulted in no penalties being assessed. He also represented a client before the IRS on complicated leased employee and related nondiscrimination testing issues where there was no existing regulatory guidance, helping to influence the development of new leased employee policies as a result.

Advocating for changes to COBRA/State Spousal Continuation Coverage

Jorge’s counsel in regard to a large health insurer’s spousal health continuation obligations led to a change in systems and procedures on a statewide basis, benefiting thousands of spouses who were entitled to health coverage after their partners terminated employment.

Other notable representations include:

  • Successfully defended a client’s 403(b) plan during a DOL audit, which resulted in the assessment of minimal penalties
  • Converted recordkeepers for defined contribution plans holding approximately $8 billion in assets
  • Represented clients during PBGC investigations relating to reportable events, resulting in the successful close of acquisitions and changes in controlled groups
  • Assessed the merits of settlement strategies for various alleged ERISA fiduciary breach lawsuits
  • Handled benefit aspects of the $200 million sale of an IT service provider
  • Handled benefit aspects of a purchaser’s $825 million acquisition of an information systems group
  • Handled benefit aspects of multimillion-dollar acquisitions and divestitures of various manufacturing clients 

Honors & Recognitions

  • Chicago’s Most Notable Minority Lawyers, Crain’s Chicago Business, 2018
  • Included in Who's Who in Hispanic Chicago list, Negocios Now, 2018
  • “Illinois Super Lawyers” list in the area of Employee Benefits, Super Lawyers magazine, 2018, 2019
  • Most Influential Minority Lawyers in Chicago, Crain's Custom Media, 2017
  • Recognized Practitioner, Employee Benefits & Compensation, Chambers USA, 2016, 2017, 2018
  • Top Latino Lawyers, Latino Leaders magazine, 2016, 2017, 2018
  • Law360 Rainmaker, 2016

Professional Activities

  • Fellow, Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, 2018
  • Fellow, The Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, 2018-Present
  • Board Member, HLAI Charities, 2018-Present
  • Chair, Michael Best's Diversity & Inclusion Committee, 2014-Present
  • Member, Leadership Advisory Council of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, 2017-Present
  • Advisor on Employee Benefits, Program Committee of the Board of Directors, American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education, 2008-2016
  • Legal Referral Coordinator, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, 2007-2009
  • Financial Director, Zeta Corporation, 1998-2011

Bar Associations

  • Member, American Bar Association
  • Member, Asian American Bar Association
  • Member, Hispanic National Bar Association
  • Member, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois
  • Member, Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago

Education

Admissions

Language

Community Involvement

  • Member, Economic Club of Chicago, 2015-Present
  • Board of Directors, Gads Hill Center, 2015-Present
  • Member, Collections Committee, Field Museum Board of Trustees, 2019-Present
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