A Comprehensive Approach to Equal Access to Justice


By Leslie E. John, partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, and president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.

This January marks the start of not only a new year but a new decade. As I look towards 2020, and my second year as the President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, I am acutely aware that the aspiration of providing equal access to justice requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to our core activity of providing grants, the Bar Foundation partners with a number of organizations on a collaborative approach. This month’s column highlights some of those remarkable partnerships. 

The Bar Foundation administers fellowship programs that provide support for individuals who are committed to public service:

The Morris M. Shuster Public Interest Fellowship Program provides awards each year to deserving public interest attorneys to help them retire law school debt. In 2019, four lawyers (from AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, HIAS Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and Nationalities Service Center) were selected in a random drawing to receive loan forgiveness from the Shuster Fund. 

The Honorable Albert W. Sheppard Scholarship Fund supports a law student clerkship position with the Commerce Case Management Program, in coordination with the Business Litigation Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Business Law Section. Michael Fitzpatrick, a 3L at the Drexel University Kline School of Law, is the 2019-2020 Sheppard Fellow. 

The Judge William M. Marutani Fellowship subsidizes a summer internship position with a nonprofit public interest organization, court, or government entity, in conjunction with the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA). The 2019 fellows are Lisa Riley, who interned with Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project (CBAP) in Philadelphia and Nicholas Chan, who interned with Justice at Work in Pittsburgh. 

The R. Nicholas Gimbel Fund for Legal Excellence offers training programs at no cost for public interest lawyers in the Philadelphia area that practice at government agencies and organizations providing access to free or low-cost legal services. The training sessions support high-level instruction on trial strategy and techniques to provide valuable courtroom advocacy skills. A one-day evidence training program was held in December of 2019, hosted by Pepper Hamilton LLP and led by faculty from Rutgers Law School – Camden and the Temple University Beasley School of Law. 

The annual Samuel T. Gomez Award is presented by the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA) to a law student who embodies commitment and compassion through their community service. Our most recent recipient of the Gomez Award was Linh H. Nguyen from Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law.

The Bar Foundation administers the Association of Corporate Counsel Greater Philadelphia’s (ACCGPA) Diversity Corporate Internship Program, which sponsors an annual internship aimed at increasing diversity within corporate legal departments. Applications for the 2020 Summer Internship close on January 21, 2020. 

The Foundation assists the “Supervision to Aid Reentry” (or STAR program) of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with the Judge Alfred L. Luongo Fund. This Fund provides essential assistance and resources to individuals reintegrating into our community, including help with employment, housing, and health care. The Luongo Fund also supports two specialized courts in the Eastern District that are critical in improving the chances of long-term success: the Mental Health Protocol program and Relapse Prevention Court, which provide structure and support to participants facing mental health issues and substance addiction. 

Last, but not least, we have an innovative LexisNexis Research Grant Program that provides our nonprofit partners with online research time, tools, and training at no cost. 

Through these partnerships, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is uniquely positioned to identify sector-wide needs and marshal the resources to address issues in useful and timely ways. I strongly encourage you to read more about these opportunities and share them with your professional network. With your help, we can continue to grow this comprehensive approach to supporting the public interest community in Philadelphia.

On behalf of the staff and Trustees of the Bar Foundation, thank you for your support in 2019, which was another successful year for the Foundation. In December, we distributed $371,030 in unrestricted grants to our nonprofit partners, consisting of nearly 40 legal aid organizations working in Philadelphia and around Pennsylvania. We are grateful for the generous donations from individuals and organizations that make these grants possible.

We look forward to continuing the fight for equal access to justice in 2020.