By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bae Foundation.
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is committed to achieving equitable and equal access to justice in Philadelphia. An important way to achieve that mission is celebrating Philadelphia’s remarkable public interest community by recognizing individuals in the legal profession and organizations who have made a significant contribution to the fight for equal justice. Our annual awards are important highlights of our year, and in 2022 we are excited to present an exceptional roster of recipients.
We are pleased to announce that Su Ming Yeh, Executive Director at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, is the recipient of our 2022 Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award. This award recognizes public interest attorneys who have dedicated their careers to fighting for equal access to justice. Ballard Spahr LLP and Duane Morris LLP will each receive the Bar Foundation’s 2022 Pro Bono Award, which recognizes law firms and corporate legal departments that perform outstanding volunteer efforts to provide legal services.
During her almost twenty-year career at PILP, Su Ming Yeh has improved the lives of thousands of people, protecting the rights of incarcerated people, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and countless others who have suffered abuse in incarceration. She has litigated dozens of individual cases and class action suits challenging unconstitutional conditions for people who are incarcerated, institutionalized, or detained. She has argued successfully before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In the past two years as the Executive Director of PILP, Yeh has been committed to expanding the services of PILP, increasing diversity, and providing new staff with a strong foundation to grow their careers.
Yeh’s dedication to social justice and her community extends beyond her legal career. Prior to law school, she worked on social justice issues as a science teacher with the U.S. Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga. Yeh also served as the Executive Director of the Asian Professional Extension, Inc. and as a community organizer with the Coalition for Asian-American Children and Families. Yeh is also a dedicated member of the greater Philadelphia public interest community. Yeh served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she co-taught the Civil Practice Clinic for 5 years. She served as the President of the Asian Pacific Bar Association of Pennsylvania in 2015 and still serves on its board, along with serving on the board of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s House of Delegates, previously co-chaired the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Rights Committee, and served as the Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Public Interest Section. She is the current co-chair of the Minority Bar Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Su Ming Yeh is incredibly deserving of this award.
Ballard Spahr LLP has been an innovator in pro bono representation in Philadelphia and beyond. The firm’s Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, launched in the summer of 2020, is the epitome of the firm’s institutional commitment to pro bono representation and the cause of ensuring equal access to justice for all. Through the initiative, attorneys work closely with public interest organizations to pursue pro bono matters that advance race equity, including by addressing economic, education, and voting rights matters. Current partners include the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Appleseed Network, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, among others.
Since its inception, the initiative has accepted 16 representations, and Ballard Spahr litigators have contributed more than 6,000 pro bono hours to those matters, including by many of the firm’s top litigators. In conjunction with the Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, Ballard Spahr’s Media and Entertainment Law Practice Group launched the Diverse Voice pro bono media law initiative. Through this initiative, Ballard is representing 16 media outlets that serve communities of color in areas across the country, including Resolve Philly, a journalism collective that challenges the industry to be more equitable, collaborative, and based in community voices and solutions. Ballard has also partnered with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity and other community organizations to help clients pursue criminal record expungements and pardons.
Duane Morris LLP has been an outstanding pro bono partner to Philadelphia’s legal aid agencies for many years. During the past 15 years, Duane Morris has donated more than 390,000 pro bono hours. In the Philadelphia office, the participation rate in pro bono activities and the number of pro bono hours donated has doubled since 2015. While Duane Morris does not have a pro bono requirement for its attorneys, its robust pro bono participation is a testament to the firm’s culture and to leadership’s commitment to serving community through pro bono. Duane Morris has performed incredible and innovative pro bono work for immigrants in the Greater Philadelphia Area for over a decade, partnering with HIAS Pennsylvania and other local organizations to help individuals on the pathway to citizenship.
Responding to the crisis in Afghanistan, since August 2021, the firm has donated over 3,000 pro bono hours to helping Afghan refugees and helped train and mobilize in-house attorneys and staff at PNC Bank and Comcast to join in the effort. Duane Morris also provides compassionate legal assistance to immigrants who are victims of personal violence. Duane Morris has donated over 4,000 pro bono hours in Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) cases, helping more than 50 immigrant survivors of personal violence stabilize their immigration statuses. Duane Morris has also been recognized for its pro bono representation of The Food Trust (TFT), thereby furthering TFT’s mission of ensuring delicious, nutritious food for all, and has served as a critical partner to the Women’s Law Project during a tumultuous time for women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
These incredibly worthy 2022 award recipients will be honored at our annual Access to Justice Awards Benefit. This year’s benefit will be held in person and virtually and will celebrate not only these award winners but Philadelphia's vibrant public interest community and the businesses that partner with the Bar Foundation to support Philadelphia’s vital and justly celebrated civil legal aid system.
Sponsorship opportunities are available for businesses that serve the legal industry, and law firms that support the Foundation will be celebrated and recognized as Unified Giving partners. More details will be on our website www.philabarfoundation.org very soon. Please join us!