By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation
Last month, at our annual Access to Justice Awards event, we celebrated our 2022 Award Recipients and the businesses and firms that support the Bar Foundation. Thank you to everyone who joined us for an inspiring evening. It was so wonderful to be back in-person with so many of you, and we are also grateful for everyone who tuned into the livestream from home. We were thrilled to honor Su Ming Yeh, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, with the 2022 Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award, along with 2022 Pro Bono Award recipients Ballard Spahr LLP for its Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, and Duane Morris LLP for the firm’s outstanding volunteer legal services to social and legal service nonprofits across the region. We also highlighted the pilot year of the Law & Justice Mentoring Program, a collaboration between the Philadelphia School District and the Pepper Center for Public Service, which aims to connect BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students within the School District of Philadelphia, underrepresented in the local legal community, to critical pre-law opportunities and mentorships.
We were also honored to be joined by two trailblazing access to justice guest speakers who each offered truly inspiring remarks: Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and Rachel Rossi, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice. During her remarks, Representative Scanlon highlighted how special Philadelphia’s legal community is, a community she knows quite well as a former member of both Ballard Spahr and Duane Morris, and how fortunate we are as a City to have some of the nation’s leading law firms and legal service agencies working hard to provide access to justice for those who need it most. Representative Scanlon thanked the Philadelphia public interest community for being a resource to her in her work in Congress and highlighted some of her legislative initiatives to expand access to justice and uphold the rule of law. She lauded recent accomplishments in Philadelphia with respect to right to counsel in civil actions, and pointed to ongoing efforts to address tangled title issues, including a new bill to increase funding to address tangled titles being spearheaded by Judy Berkman of our nonprofit partner Regional Housing Legal Services.
During her remarks, Director Rossi underscored the critical importance of pursuing a transformative, multi-faceted, human-centered approach to improving equity and ensuring all communities have access to justice. Director Rossi also shared some of the recent work of the Office for Access to Justice, including the publication of the Reentry Coordination Council’s Report, a collaboration of six other federal agencies to present recommendations to Congress on reducing barriers to successful reentry for individuals released from incarceration. In addition, picking up on the ethical obligation lawyers have to give back, Director Rossi described how her office is pursuing policies that will encourage and make it easier for lawyers in the Federal Government to provide pro bono services.
At the Bar Foundation, we are excited to continue to see an upswing in understanding and recognition of the critical value of civil legal aid services, both regionally and nationally, and the importance of innovation and transformation within this work. We were thrilled to be able to honor some of the leaders doing such work, while acknowledging that there are many, many other worthy individuals and groups in our area that are doing this critical work as well. The Bar Foundation is proud to support, through our grants, programs and partnerships, nearly 40 civil legal aid organizations working to provide equal and equitable access to justice to those in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.
If you were not able to join us in-person or at home on the 18th, there is a recording of the event on our website. I highly recommend watching it. It will inspire you and give you hope for the future. I also hope it will motivate you to make a donation, perhaps in honor of one of the award recipients, to support our work. This is after all the month in which we give thanks. In that vein, let me thank all of you for supporting our critically important work to uphold and strengthen the rule of law and improve equity in our society.