In Memoriam

Remembering John Bernard

June 24, 2024

John M. Bernard—a pioneer of Philadelphia pension and benefits law who served as longtime leader of Ballard Spahr’s employee benefits practice—died June 20. He was 83.

John received his law degree from Harvard University in 1967 and started his career with a focus on trust law. Responding to emerging client needs, he became one of the first Philadelphia lawyers to concentrate on employee health benefits, incentives, compensation, and retirement plans. He built his reputation as a benefits lawyer following passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), watershed legislation that provides protection for retirement and health plans of private industry workers.

John joined Ballard Spahr in 1986 as a partner and later served as leader of the firm’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation (EBEC) Group for close to two decades until his retirement at the end of 2009.

Brian M. Pinheiro, current leader of Ballard Spahr’s EBEC Group, remembers John as an authority in his field of law who shared his knowledge with many people through teaching.

“John had an encyclopedic understanding of benefits law, but his talent was in translating complicated concepts into plain English for clients and other lawyers,” Brian said. “So many pension and benefits professionals received their introduction to the field through his teaching—including some of the first regulators at the Department of Labor,” following ERISA enactment.

In addition to training government regulators, John taught students at Temple University Beasley School of Law and aspiring paralegals at the former Paralegal Institute in Philadelphia. One of those paralegals is Jennifer DeMarco, a Ballard Spahr benefit plan analyst who joined the firm shortly after graduating from the institute in the 1990s.

“I learned a lot from John, about the law and also about how to communicate better, how to understand the client’s needs, and how to cultivate a relationship with a client,” Jennifer said.

At Ballard Spahr, John was a leader, mentor, and model of how to serve clients.

“John was a towering figure in employee benefits law in the city,” said Edward I. Leeds, a lawyer in the EBEC Group who counted John as a mentor. “He was intensely focused on client service. He had clients and relationships that spanned decades. I learned a lot from John about making the client your focus and working with them to solve their problems with concrete results.”

John’s widow, Esther von Laue Bernard, also practiced at Ballard Spahr, retiring from the firm in 2005.

Funeral arrangements are private.