Engaging Young Lawyers in Legal Aid


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

Young lawyers play important roles at the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and in our legal aid community as a whole. I am inspired by the deep interest that new attorneys have in pro bono service and legal aid, as well as the unique perspectives they bring to our work.

The Bar Foundation provides opportunities specifically focused on engaging young lawyers, including the Board Observer Program.  We partner with the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) on various initiatives, and the YLD holds an annual event to benefit the Bar Foundation.

The Board Observer Program (BOP) provides young lawyers with the opportunity to volunteer and serve on a nonprofit board of directors for one year. This program is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, the Delivery of Legal Services Committee and the Young Lawyers Division (YLD). In 2014, the BOP received the LexisNexis "Partnerships For Success" Award of the National Conference of Bar Foundations in acknowledgment of this innovative and successful bar foundation/bar association partnership.

Board Observers learn about local legal services organizations and other nonprofits while gaining leadership skills and strengthening their professional networks. The program facilitates a yearlong placement on a nonprofit board, mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational opportunities such as CLEs and lunch-and-learns. Board Observers are exempt from the customary financial obligation of a board contribution – an obligation that might otherwise serve as an obstacle to board service for young attorneys who are just starting their careers.

Participating nonprofits benefit from the energy and ideas of these young lawyers, as well as the opportunity to join BOP events throughout the year. After completing their BOP service, many Board Observers continue serving in nonprofit board leadership roles. Past Board Observers have initiated innovative fundraising and program ideas for nonprofits in the Philadelphia region. This year, the Bar Foundation has two Board Observers of our own who attend board meetings, serve on committees, and actively participate in our events.

We are currently accepting applications for 2020 Board Observers and participating nonprofit organizations. Applications can be found online at www.philabarfoundation.org/BOP. The deadline to submit applications is September 6, 2019.

Young lawyers can also learn about our work through the YLD’s annual fundraiser to benefit the Philadelphia Bar Foundation. Over the years, YLD members have come up with creative ways to engage their peers in support of legal aid.

I hope that you’ll join us September 10, 2019, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. for this year’s YLD Fundraiser: Keep Calm and Play Ping Pong. This year’s event will be held at SPIN Philadelphia, featuring a sponsored table tennis tournament, catered food, and open bar. Attendees will have a chance to learn more about our work and our partners, all while enjoying an evening of fun in support of legal aid. 

Tickets and sponsorship packages are available now at www.philabarfoundation.org/2019YLD. Please join me in encouraging our colleagues to attend this unique and entertaining ping pong event. 

I am hopeful that the next generation of lawyers will stay involved with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and share our commitment to legal aid. Thank you to the many young lawyers who are already involved with our work and to those who have made an effort to welcome new attorneys into our community. We greatly appreciate your support.