By Thomas A. Brophy, president emeritus at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C., and president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
As a philanthropic hub for access to justice, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is always proud to highlight and encourage individuals who embody the principles that align with our mission. In this spirit, we nominated Deborah R. Gross, Esq., of counsel at Kaufman, Coren & Ress, P.C., for the Excellence Award of the National Conference of Bar Foundations (NCBF). We are proud to report that Debbie received the award in February at the NCBF Annual Meeting held in conjunction with the American Bar Association mid-year meeting.
Debbie Gross is a true trailblazer in Philadelphia’s public interest legal community. During her tenure as the Philadelphia Bar Association’s 90th Chancellor, she used her platform to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised in our region and urged others to contribute time and money to strengthen the delivery of civil legal aid. She has a deep passion for philanthropy which is demonstrated through her service-focused leadership.
For more than 10 years, Debbie has also been a resilient advocate for the Philadelphia Bar Foundation. As a Trustee, she participated in the Grants Committee, the Finance Committee, the Annual Benefit Committee, the Development Committee, and many Ad Hoc Task Forces. Most notably, she established the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s Cy Pres Committee, resulting in the Foundation receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to support its annual grants to legal aid non-profit partners. She served as President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation during our 50th Anniversary and generously volunteered her time to expand the vision of the organization. Her innovative ideas have allowed the Foundation’s mission to reach beyond the legal community.
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is currently spearheading a Philadelphia Equal Justice Center in which Debbie has become deeply invested. She provides leadership of, and commitment to, the project, allowing the Foundation to make great strides in its development. The Philadelphia Equal Justice Center is a unique venture which will set a new national standard for inter-agency collaboration, operational efficiency, and client-centered delivery of free legal services by co-locating dozens of legal aid organizations in one state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility. Debbie is an advocate for the property development with Philadelphia’s public officials and she will serve as Chair of our capital campaign efforts.
In 2017, Debbie was one of the founders of a collaboration called Take Action Philly uniting the Bar Association, the City of Philadelphia, the legal community, the business community, Philadelphia residents, and public interest organizations to protect and assist vulnerable populations in the aftermath of state and federal policy changes. This critical and essential initiative has convened hundreds of attorneys to support immigrants and those who are at risk of having health care coverage reduced or eliminated. Debbie was one of those who worked directly with Philadelphia’s Mayor and the Office of Immigrant Affairs to have lawyers trained and available to adjust refugee status and naturalization.
More than 200 immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia were assisted by the 300 lawyers involved in Take Action Philly. The program has since addressed Medicaid threats and is currently working on race and policing issues.
The National Conference of Bar Foundations advances the work of all types of bar foundations across the United States by promoting the integral role that bar foundations play in advancing law-related philanthropy to the organized bar, the larger legal community and the philanthropic community. In 2015, they established the NCBF Excellence Award to recognize outstanding contributions to law-related philanthropy by an individual. We thank the NCBF for recognizing others through the years that have made similar commitments in their life and work. And we thank individuals like Debbie Gross for their continued commitment and unyielding support of the public interest legal community.