Awards Season


By Wilson M. Brown III, Senior Counsel at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.

“The Trial of the Chicago Seven” brought back a world of memories for me. The 1968 Democratic Convention took place the August before my junior year in high school. I spent the last week of August that year riveted to a small black-and-white TV screen, watching the demonstrations unfold, the chants, the police lines, and ultimately the riot. It was riveting and remains surprisingly vivid to me many years later.  

I spent the following summer working as a camp counselor in the Virginia mountains. Stale newspapers, some magazines sent from home, and rickety radios were our links to civilization. Sixty of us squeezed into one of the cabins to listen to the most dramatic event of 1969, man’s first step on the moon.  

The Chicago Seven trial, however, was not the stuff of radio. Nor of any critical newspaper or magazine coverage that reached us – except for Rolling Stone magazine. The movie captures, like no other retrospective, the spirit of Rolling Stone’s journalism. It was not your parents’ Times, Post, or Inquirer. It was fiery, fearless, and inspiring. Aaron Sorkin’s film brought the spirit of the times and the magazine’s work alive – and with it not just Chicago but all the upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s that fired my interest in the law and in our society’s struggles for justice, which continue today.  

But, is Sorkin’s film the “Best Picture of the Year”?  As I write, we are in “awards season” – a film industry-sponsored horse race among quality movies, each heavily promoted to voters by studios, culminating in a lavish ceremony to celebrate the winners and commiserate with the losers. Of course, “awards seasons” are not just for the film industry. Television, the recording industry, and other arts all have them. The press, eager for a story, plays up these horse-races too. And, surprise winners, accompanied by clouds of suspicion, are not uncommon. Sorkin deserves to win, but who knows?

Decades of this understandably leave many jaded about awards. Award decisions entail a choice, of course. But, outside of industry-fueled “award seasons,” such decisions are generally the result of honest efforts by neutral committees to reach consensus on the person or organization who best represents the ideals the award recognizes – and not the product of a bling-laden world of viewings and parties.

So the Bar Foundation will not be having an “awards season.” It will, however, make several awards this year at an Access to Justice Awards Benefit set for November 9, 2021. 

Nominations for these two awards are due May 15, 2021:

  • The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award recognizes a public interest attorney who is dedicating his or her life to promoting equal access to justice for all by working in the nonprofit legal services community.  
  • The Pro Bono Award of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation honors a Philadelphia law firm or corporate legal department that performs outstanding volunteer efforts in providing legal services to those in need. 

The Bar Foundation will also be honoring William T. Coleman, Jr. as its third Trailblazer for Justice. Past recipients of this award are Jerome J. Shestack in 2018 and Sadie T.M. Alexander in 2016. The Trailblazers for Justice Award honors the brilliance, personal courage, and use of exceptional talents by an individual to advance the cause of equal access to justice. 

Originally from Germantown, Coleman was the second African American to serve in the United States Cabinet, among many other notable achievements. He authored legal briefs presented to the court in Brown vs. Board of Education, argued a case that led to establishing the constitutionality of racially mixed sexual relations and cohabitation, and successfully argued that segregated private schools should be barred from receiving federal tax exemptions. He was co-chairman of the White House Conference on Civil Rights in 1966 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton.

Please plan on joining us on November 9 for this important celebration.