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INFUENTIAL LAWYERS

Jerry Schlichter, senior partner, Schlichter Bogard & Denton

Jerry Schlichter has earned a lot of nicknames from national media outlets in the past year or so.

The New York Times called him “a lone ranger of the 401(k).” Invest News referred to him as “Public Enemy No. 1 for 401(k) profiteers.”

The recognition comes for the work he’s done fighting excessive fees in 401(k) plans. He started the work more than a decade ago, not knowing what, if anything, would come from the effort.

Jerome Schlichter of Schlichter Bogard & Denton in St. Louis was the first, and for a long time the only attorney to take on litigation tackling excessive fees in 401(k) plans. This year he achieved two record settlements for such cases..  He is one of the MLA Influential Lawyers of 2015.  Photo by Karen Elshout

Jerome Schlichter of Schlichter Bogard & Denton in St. Louis was the first, and for a long time the only attorney to take on litigation tackling excessive fees in 401(k) plans. This year he achieved two record settlements for such cases. Photo by Karen Elshout

Since then, Schlichter has secured several multi-million dollar settlements for his clients, including one for $62 million he negotiated on behalf of Lockheed Martin employees in 2015. The settlement is the largest ever for excessive 401(k) fees.

A $57 million settlement Schlichter negotiated for Boeing employees, also in 2015, is the second largest.

But to Schlichter, it’s not about the money, but the principles at stake.

“These plans were off in a dark closet with no regulations or litigation at all,” he said.

Now, multiple judges have said the cases have come downon the entire industry, Schlichter said.

“Many commenters have noted that has resulted in every 401(k) plan now having an ongoing duty to monitor options in a 401(k) plan for excessive fees and investments,” Schlichter said.

The 401(k) cases aren’t the first time Schlichter stood up for “the little guy” and won.

Early in his career, he took on a case on behalf of several African-American applicants who had sought employment with Illinois Central Gulf Railroad for a job that “only required a strong back.” None were hired or given a reason why they didn’t get the job. After 13 years, Schlichter obtained a settlement for his clients.

“It was very gratifying,” he said.

In another case, he represented women in an employment discrimination case against Rent-A-Center, which he described as having largely male employees at the time, “having meetings at strip clubs” and “firing pregnant women because they couldn’t lift furniture.”

Schlichter said his team talked about 750 women out of a settlement that would have given them minimal money, and “ultimately settled for many, many times” more.

“That benefitted women throughout the company, and the company had to change entire personnel and resource practices to eliminate discrimination,” he said.

With those cases as points of pride for Schlichter, it’s not surprising that when asked what lawyers he considers an inspiration, he pointed to civil rights attorneys, especially those that helped desegregate schools.

“They demonstrated how an attorney can make a meaningful difference in the lives of the little person and take on large entities successfully,” he said.

His own work has caught the eye of many, including Ian Ayres, a lawyer and an economist who is a professor at Yale Law School.

“There should be a special place in heaven for the good work Schlichter and his firm have done,” Ayres said.

Schlichter plans to continue the work, with several 401(k) fee cases still pending.

“The battle continues,” Schlichter said.