John Hamlin loves what he does. The chief counsel for employment, benefits, and governance at global professional services firm Marsh McLennan found an area of law that perfectly suits his sensibilities early on, and he’s never looked back.
“Employment law is fascinating. It’s complex and challenging, and it’s packed with human drama,” says Hamlin. “I’ve always said that I practice the family law of the corporate world.”
The inherently high stakes of employment law have been on full display throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamlin has risen to the challenge by helping Marsh McLennan navigate the crisis from an employment perspective. Fortunately, the firm’s executive leadership team set the stage for success by prioritizing employee well-being from the start—a move that Hamlin considers reflective of Marsh McLennan’s overall company culture. It’s a culture to which he is proud to contribute by bringing to bear his extensive employment law experience.
Before discovering his passion for employment law, Hamlin obtained undergraduate and master’s degrees in English literature. However, the practicality of the law soon drew him away from a potential career in academia. He attended law school at the University of Connecticut, then spent a year clerking at the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
“The clerkship was a great experience in a fast-paced and dynamic court that handled a vast array of cases, including another chapter in the original lawsuit to desegregate Savannah’s public schools. The court also handled a lot of employment cases, which I found particularly interesting,” he says.
Hamlin continued to gravitate toward employment law during his years in private practice, first at Connecticut law firm Wiggin and Dana and then at international firm Paul Hastings. He gained exposure to a wide variety of employment cases, from collective bargaining and class actions to discrimination claims and workplace investigations.
“What I loved most about private practice was advising employers on how to maneuver the crazy, complex quilt of employment laws and regulations,” Hamlin says. “I was able to become an expert in the essential subject matter areas of employment law, and I developed into what I like to think of as a pragmatic generalist.”
When he joined Marsh McLennan as an in-house employment counsel in 2002, Hamlin narrowed in on the elements of private employment law practice that had most appealed to him. His time at the law firms had prepared him to dive right into managing significant employment disputes and litigation and advising Marsh McLennan’s four primary businesses on legal risk.
By 2007, Hamlin had stepped into the role of chief employment counsel. “Since then, the role has expanded and developed as the organization has grown and the legal and compliance function has grown with it,” he says.
That has meant refining the scope of his role, which has extended at times into new areas—such as overseeing benefits and compensation and governance teams—and has included greater involvement with advising on M&A activity and the company’s growth strategy.
In 2019, Marsh McLennan closed its $5.6 billion acquisition of global insurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thomson, and Hamlin advised on the integration of JLT’s ten thousand employees, located in dozens of countries around the world.
“Our team also took on the responsibility of advising on restrictive covenant matters and managing restrictive covenant disputes and litigation,” he adds. “That’s now a significant portion of our practice because there is a greater movement of talent within our key industries these days, and our businesses continue to grow.”
As Hamlin gained experience counseling the businesses on those issues, the scope of his work became increasingly global. Given that he currently leads a lean team of five employment lawyers, he partners with colleagues in employee relations and human resources (HR) as well as other legal professionals at the firm to enhance the team’s ability to perform effectively and to keep pace with the businesses themselves. He also relies on Marsh McLennan’s internal employment law council and an external network of employment law firms for up-to-date information about new challenges facing the firm and the field at large worldwide.
“Employment law is fascinating. It’s complex and challenging, and it’s packed with human drama. I’ve always said that I practice the family law of the corporate world.”
“The biggest challenge for our team is the increasing intricacy and sheer quantity of employment and workplace regulation. There are constantly new and more complex regulations imposed on employers by national, regional, state, and local authorities,” says Hamlin. “For a multinational corporation, the key employment risks are still in the US with its complex regulatory scheme, jury trials, and class actions, but every jurisdiction around the globe has its own individual version of employment regulation as well as laws governing restrictive covenants.”
With the help of his colleagues and external partners, Hamlin closely monitors the shifting employment law landscape to support Marsh McLennan’s global operations. He strives to maintain a consistent approach to HR compliance, which he has seen evolve into a substantial component of employment law over his decades in practice.
“Every year, employment regulation becomes more complex, more intricate, and more burdensome for employers. An employment lawyer today spends less time on disputes than on advising on strategies to comply with the incredibly complex employment regulation in the US and globally,” he confirms.
Hamlin encountered a new class of regulations in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world. Just as every jurisdiction presents its own unique employment laws, individual cities, states, and countries established different standards for COVID-related workplace safety. “For employment lawyers, managing through that maze of regulation has been a huge undertaking,” Hamlin says. “It’s part of that same theme of variation and complexity in regulation. During the pandemic, that only intensified.”
At Marsh McLennan, Hamlin has advised on health and safety protocols, new working arrangements, return-to-office priorities, and other issues throughout the pandemic. In addition, he has provided legal advice to the global crisis management team—a cross-functional, cross-business group concerned with the pandemic and the firm’s response to it.
“Do the right thing, focus on what’s best for the mission of the enterprise and our clients, and at the same time, be smart and honorable.”
In Hamlin’s eyes, that response has been spot-on. “At the start of the pandemic, when there was so much uncertainty, our CEO announced almost immediately to the workforce that a priority for the company through the worst of the crisis was going to be protecting our colleagues’ jobs during the worst of the crisis,” he says. “The strength of management’s communication of that priority relieved some of the extraordinary stress that employees were feeling and helped them hunker down and work more productively.”
Hamlin views the decision not to furlough workers as a testament to the values and culture in place at Marsh McLennan. The firm’s code of conduct, The Greater Good, drives home the essential nature of acting ethically and taking ownership of compliance efforts across the organization.
“We have an inclusive culture that values collaboration, innovation, and the diversity that our individual colleagues bring to work each day. Our code of conduct embodies the values of the enterprise, and those values have been ingrained in the consciousness of our workforce through training, discussions, videos, and corporate communications as well as by the example of our leadership,” Hamlin elaborates. “Do the right thing, focus on what’s best for the mission of the enterprise and our clients, and at the same time, be smart and honorable.”
Hamlin plans to remain grounded in the firm’s culture as he facilitates its next steps, including transitioning out of the pandemic. “Marsh McLennan has an opportunity to craft the future of work, to enhance its operations, and to make sure that the workforce of tomorrow is equipped and supported to help the company continue to thrive. I want to help shape that dynamic future,” he says.
As he assists the firm in its ongoing growth, Hamlin will continue to focus on identifying and sensibly managing employment-based risk. He will keep building up his relationships with colleagues and clients, all while leveraging the skills and expertise that he has accumulated throughout his career in employment law—a field that he still loves, both despite and because of its complexities.
“At a professional services firm like Marsh McLennan, where your assets are your people, the employment law issues matter a lot,” Hamlin emphasizes. “They involve serious work, and our colleagues and our leaders care about these issues deeply. And we need to get those issues right.”
With a singular focus on labor and employment law, our team is better equipped to serve your business. Why? Because our experience is vast, and our knowledge is deep. For more than seventy-five years, we’ve focused exclusively on labor and employment law. But we realize it’s not enough to know just the law—we have to know your business too. By understanding your challenges and opportunities, we can tackle everything from simple questions to complex litigation needs with the same rigor and the same nuanced approach. And we can respond to each of your questions—not just with an answer, but with your answer.
At Littler, unconventional thinking is our norm. We listen to our clients’ issues and respond with bold answers that not only address their needs but help shape the industry. So whether you’re a CLO facing compliance challenges in the financial services field or a higher education human resources leader with employee benefits questions; whether you’re a GC dealing with wage and hour issues in the retail space or a business leader of an energy company who needs help navigating international employment law—you’ve come to the right place.
“I have watched John grow into his position—chief counsel of employment, benefits, and governance—over the course of the past twenty years. He has shown intelligence, steely grit, resilience, and empathy in dealing with the myriad issues around the globe. Congratulations, John, on a much-deserved recognition.”
–Erika C. Collins, Partner
Jackson Lewis P.C.:
“John is a superb employment lawyer with unparalleled experience. He is an insightful and dedicated professional. Partnering with John and MMC’s employment law team is always productive and a pleasure.”
–Cliff Atlas, Partner
“John Hamlin brings a potent blend of creativity and practicality to the management of the employment group at Marsh McLennan. His leadership is a driving force behind the group’s well-earned reputation as the gold standard for employment departments throughout the country.”
–Kevin B. Leblang, Partner and Chair, Employment Law
“Working with John is a privilege. He appreciates the nuances of employment law and collaborates directly with outside counsel, using a risk/reward approach to find practical solutions to problems.”
–Michael Weber, Shareholder