Attorney specializes in ERISA work at firm


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Bob Stevenson graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1976, the year the Employee Retirement Income Security Act – a.k.a. ERISA – became effective. He and the new act went on to spend many years together and ERISA has played a major role in his career success.

Stevenson’s first job was at Hill, Lewis (now Clark Hill) in Detroit, a firm with a substantial benefits practice.

“I worked with Elliott Phillips, who had done benefits law for over 20 years, but had never worked with an associate,” he says. “We learned ERISA together, and became close friends – he is among the greatest mentors in my life.”

In 1987, Stevenson and his legal assistant Linda Knowles founded Stevenson Keppelman Associates (SKA) in Ann Arbor, one of the nation’s first “ERISA boutiques.” The firm, which grew by the periodic addition of well-experienced benefits practitioners, joined Butzel Long on September 1; Stevenson and his colleagues now work in the firm’s office on East Liberty in Ann Arbor.

In 39 years of benefits specialization, Stevenson has handled virtually every kind of benefit law issue for employers large and small.

“In benefits law, we revel in avoiding ‘cases,’” he says. “We strive for perfection in advance. That aspect of pension law is perhaps appealing to Type-A perfectionists.

“That said, at SKA we designed and drafted among the first cash balance pension plans and some innovative retiree medical programs. We also litigated precedent-setting cases involving early retirement window design decisions, involving when in the process soon-to-retire employees should be advised of soon-to-come incentives for retiring.”

A charter fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel (ACEBC), Stevenson has been named to every edition of The Best Lawyers in America and was named Best Lawyers’ 2013 Ann Arbor Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law “Lawyer of the Year.” Chambers USA has consistently included him among a few Michigan Lawyers gaining the highest ranking in benefits law.

His career got its start with graduation from Osborn High School in Detroit, after which Stevenson earned his undergrad degree in English from Michigan State University, where he earned three varsity letters for lacrosse, was recognized as MSU’s highest-GPA varsity athlete, and met his future wife, Sharon Buslepp.

While coaching varsity lacrosse at MSU, he followed the example of his friends and took the LSAT. Although earning admittance to the U-M Law School, Stevenson decided to continue coaching.

“Then U-M added a scholarship and I decided it was time to read the handwriting, take ‘yes’ for an answer, and go to law school,” he says.

“My fellow students were the best part of law school, and I enjoyed working for Legal Aid, representing students whose constitutional rights had truly been violated – and thus helping to change the course of their lives and their careers.”

The Detroit native and his wife lived in Ann Arbor for many years, where for four decades he played basketball four times a week.

“That was the key to my conditioning and for what passed as my sanity,” he says.

He and his wife now spend most of their time in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he can indulge his passion for skiing.

“Fortunately – or unfortunately – one can work a great deal from anywhere now,” he says.

His daughters have followed him into the law. Kate is in her second year at Denver University Law School where she is on the Law Review; and Ruth, like her father a graduate of MSU and of U-M Law, is a U.S.
government attorney in D.C.

According to Stevenson, who was inducted into the Michigan Lacrosse Coaches’ Hall of Fame in 2012, and into the U.S. Lacrosse Michigan Hall of Fame in 2014, fortune has played a large role in his life.

“I was fortunate to come out of law school and to fall right into a specialty practice. I was fortunate to work with a great mentor such as Elliott, who will forever be remembered fondly. I was fortunate to leverage the ERISA niche into an original ERISA boutique. I was fortunate to have sports as a physical outlet for the inevitable stresses of the practice of law.

“In short, I’ve been more fortunate than I’ve been strategic. From this, I’ve come to believe that if you prepare yourself and put yourself in a position to succeed, and if you add hard work, you will probably experience good outcomes.”