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You might say that Jeffrey Lewis and ERISA grew up together. After all, Lewis had just begun his third year at Boalt Hall School of Law when the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act took effect in September 1974. He started handling some of the earliest ERISA-related cases, as a plaintiffs’ employment lawyer, not long after he was admitted to the California Bar in December 1975. Lewis and his former partner, Dan Sigman, “just kind of fell into it,” says Lewis, referring to the specialty ERISA practice that has since defined his career. Lewis’ six-lawyer Oakland firm, Lewis & Feinberg, has recently branched out into some wage-and-hour matters on behalf of employees, but the focus remains squarely on litigating ERISA and related employee benefits matters. (The firm may soon expand to eight lawyers, with two prospective associates awaiting results from the most recent bar exam.) Among other matters currently occupying his time, Lewis is one of two plaintiffs attorneys on the steering committee that is overseeing a pending class action against WorldCom that stems from losses suffered by the company’s 401(k) plan due to investments in the company’s collapsed stock. The federal litigation has been consolidated in the Southern District of New York. “Jeff has mastered the complexities of this arcane area of the law and has vitalized it as an area that may be litigated on a class basis on behalf of workers deprived of their pension rights,” says David Borgen, a partner at Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, a plaintiffs firm in Oakland. “He is smart and aggressive and has pioneered the creative use of ERISA claims for workers.” Lewis, 54, says about 98 percent of his firm’s caseload comes through referrals from other plaintiffs lawyers whose own firms typically lack ERISA expertise. Historically, some of the prominent class action firms shied away from ERISA work, perhaps because of statutory limits on the amount of attorneys fees that could be collected in such cases. That’s been changing more recently in light of increased litigation over 401(k) plans at companies like WorldCom, Enron and other scandal-wracked corporations. Instead of worrying about competition from other lawyers, Lewis has taken an active role in building up the plaintiffs bar in his specialty field. “We have more work than we can handle, and we turn a lot of cases away,” he says. “So I encourage other lawyers to get involved in this area.”

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