By Leslie E. John, partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, and President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
Despite these uncertain times, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation has continued to make progress with the Equal Justice Center (EJC) project, set to open in 2022. We’re so grateful for the outpouring of support from our local legal community and the broader Philadelphia community. I want to share some project highlights and recent news that exemplifies the wide range of attention and engagement the EJC is receiving. Now, more than ever, Philadelphia needs an Equal Justice Center to meet the needs of the most underserved members of our community.
In early March, members of the EJC leadership gathered leaders from Philadelphia’s philanthropic, law firm, and business communities for a project update breakfast in downtown Philadelphia. Speakers included David Cohen, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, Robert Heim, past Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and a Partner at Dechert LLP, and Jennifer Clarke, Executive Director of Public Interest Law Center, one of our nonprofit partners. We were thrilled with attendance at the event and received enthusiastic responses to the program. As David L. Cohen mentioned in his remarks, the Philadelphia business, legal, and philanthropic communities have a financial and moral imperative to see this project through to completion. This first-in-the-nation facility will bring significant economic and social benefits to our region and become a model for civil legal aid delivery. Both Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke passionately about the importance of the many collaborative opportunities that the EJC presents for their offices and their constituents.
The leadership breakfast followed the exciting news that the Eagles Social Justice Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation awarded the Philadelphia Bar Foundation a grant in support of the Equal Justice Center. The Social Justice Fund was established by the Eagles to provide aid to Philadelphia’s nonprofit organizations that specialize in education, community and police relations, poverty, and racial equality, among other areas. We are honored to receive this award.
The Honorable Timothy K. Lewis, former federal appeals judge and Counsel at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, and Jessica Hilburn-Holmes, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, were interviewed about the Equal Justice Center on NBC10’s @Issue television show. They discussed the impact the Equal Justice Center will have on Philadelphia’s population living below the poverty line. Jessica explained how the center will become a “one-stop-shop” for individuals and families that need assistance from more than one organization. Judge Lewis discussed the moral imperative of the EJC, noting that, “We have a responsibility to ensure that those who are less advantaged have the same access to courts that the most advantaged among us have.”
Judge Lewis also authored an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Citizen, calling the Equal Justice Center "the most important endeavor ever undertaken" in achieving equal access to justice. Judge Lewis highlighted the benefits that the EJC will have not only for the clients and nonprofits serving them but for Philadelphia as a whole.
The Pro Bono Institute spotlighted the Equal Justice Center on their blog and interviewed Jessica Hilburn-Holmes about the project for their newsletter. Jessica referenced Philadelphia’s record of innovation and said, “Philadelphia is perfectly situated for the EJC model, as the public interest community in our city has a long-established history of collaboration.” Jessica shared how co-locating these nonprofit organizations will allow for more efficacy and better communication between agencies to help clients further.
The Philadelphia legal and business community is providing unflagging support for this vital project. The Philadelphia Equal Justice Center defines innovation in legal aid, and we are excited to have many individuals, organizations, and companies participate in the project's future.
For more information on the Equal Justice Center’s development, please contact Jessica Hilburn-Holmes, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, or visit www.philaequaljusticecenter.org, where you may donate to the project online. Contact Laura Powers at the Bar Foundation for information on multi-year pledge gifts.