Michael S. Sirkin is a senior partner and former co-chair of both the Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation & ERISA Litigation Practice Center and the Tax Department. He practices primarily in the areas of executive compensation and employee benefits, and frequently represents companies, compensation committees and senior executives in connection with executive employment, severance, equity and other compensation arrangements.
In the executive compensation area, Michael advises clients in connection with nonqualified arrangements, such as Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans and other deferred-compensation plans, incentive plans, Code Section 409A issues, rabbi trusts and other funding vehicles. Michael also advises corporations on the design and implementation of stock option, restricted stock and similar plans.
He also has an active and prominent practice representing compensation committees, chief executive officers and other senior corporate executives in the negotiation and structuring of executive employment and severance agreements. He frequently represents management teams in private equity deals and other mergers and acquisition transactions.
US Legal 500 has rated Michael as a leading lawyer nationally for six consecutive years and noted that he is “one of the leading experts on executive compensation,” has been “commended for his superb negotiating,” is “good at engineering solutions” and “dominates negotiations without being obvious.” US Legal 500 also has described Michael as doing “a terrific job” with a “strong detailed knowledge of both sides of the table,” as having an “eye towards governance” and as a “very effective negotiator” that brings a “calm and rational voice during tough negotiations.” US Legal 500 also cited his commitment to client service, referring to him as an “attorney who provides timely advice and absolutely puts his clients first,” and notes that “there is no time day or night when he is not prepared to talk.” Corporate Board Member magazine recognized Michael as one of the “superstar lawyers who put hiring-and-exit deals together for superstar talent.” Michael was similarly recognized in The American Lawyer as one of the top three lawyers in the country in representing senior executives.
Chambers USA rated him in Band 1 nationally in the Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation area from 2010 - 2012, citing him as “of the highest quality,” “one of the premier executive compensation lawyers in the country” and noting that “sources praised his calm and collected approach: He is grounded and focused, and great in what can be highly charged situations.” Chambers USA also continually has ranked Michael in Band 1 in New York, and in 2012, moved him up to the “Star” classification, (as one of only four named in that category). Chambers has noted that Michael has “carved out a niche in executive compensation work, and has cornered the market when it comes to representing CEOs,” and has also cited his representation of companies and compensation committees and praised him “as ‘the dean of negotiating contract arrangements’.”
In the employee benefits area, Michael counsels large and small businesses, including consulting firms and insurance companies, throughout the country on all aspects of employee benefits plans. This includes the design, implementation, drafting and operation of profit-sharing, defined benefit, money purchase, 401(k), employee stock ownership and stock bonus plans, as well as health, severance and other welfare plans. In connection with this type of counseling, Michael advises on control group issues, including the special problems unique to foreign-based entities, and on fiduciary and prohibited transaction issues.
Michael served a three-year term as one of six practitioners on the Advisory Committee to the Internal Revenue Service Tax Exempt Government Entity Division with regard to benefit plans. Chambers USA notes that Michael “earns peer respect for his traditional executive compensation, employee benefits and pension practice,” while US Legal 500 notes that a client indicated “there is no one with the breadth of knowledge about their issues, nor anyone that I work with who is as responsive as Michael and the associates who work with him.”
Michael also advises various tax-exempt organizations, insurance companies, consultants and executives of tax-exempt organizations on compensation and benefits issues, including those applying to Section 403(b) plans and Section 457 arrangements.
Michael is a frequent lecturer and writer on employee benefits and executive compensation matters. He is co-editor and co-lead author of the treatise Executive Compensation published by Law Journal Seminar-Press and the co-author of the chapter on ERISA in the 403(b) Answer Book. Michael was a contributing editor to The Philanthropy Monthly, writing a bimonthly column on compensation and benefits for tax-exempt organizations, and is on the Board of Advisors of Executive Compensation Strategies and The Journal of Taxation of Employee Benefits, as well as the Editorial Board of Corporate Counselor.
In addition, Michael has served as a director and officer of the New York Chapter of WEB: A Network of Professionals Working in Employee Benefits. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Law at New York University School of Law for several years.