By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation
As we look towards 2022, and my first year officially serving as President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, we are more aware than ever that the aspiration of providing equal access to justice requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to grantmaking, partnerships are a key strategic priority for the Bar Foundation and integral to the fight for a fair and equitable Philadelphia. This month’s column highlights some of these 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 2021, four lawyers (from Community Legal Services, Pennsylvania Health Law Project, Women Against Abuse, and Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project) were selected 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. Myranda (Meng Xi) Zhou, a 3L at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, is the 2021-2022 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 2021 fellows were Livia Luan, who interned with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) in Philadelphia and Tue Ho, who interned with the Amistad Law Project in Philadelphia. Their essays about their experiences are posted on our website.
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 nonprofit 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. An online deposition skills training program is being held later this month, led by faculty from Rutgers Law School – Camden and in conjunction with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy.
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.
Through a partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel Greater Philadelphia’s (ACCGPA) the Bar Foundation is proud to administer the ACCGPA Diversity Corporate Internship Program, which provides stipends in support of summer internships aimed at increasing diversity within corporate legal departments. Applications for the 2022 Summer Internship close on January 18, 2021 and are posted on our website.
The Foundation assists the “Supervision to Aid Reentry” (or STAR program) of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania through 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 respectively 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.
There are also a lot of exciting developments with the Foundation’s Equal Justice Center (EJC) project. In 2021, we concluded Phase 1 of our shift from a physical Equal Justice Center (EJC) to a virtual EJC. We conducted a feasibility study to understand technology and data processes and challenges among our legal aid providers. In 2022 we intend to move forward, with our legal aid nonprofit partners, to design a framework for system navigation, including the development and use of legal aid navigators. This will involve exploring the establishment of accessibility, data sharing, and data privacy standards to which all partners would agree to adhere. At the same time, the Foundation will engage directly with end-users in order to elevate community voices to better understand needs and barriers, and to better inform the development and implementation of community-based justice hubs or legal empowerment zones throughout the City.
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 networks. To grow and strengthen this comprehensive approach to supporting the public interest legal community, the Foundation is looking forward to new opportunities for collaboration and partnership with our friends at the Philadelphia Bar Association, other Affinity Bars, and entities across the City who share our passion for closing the access to justice gap and increasing equity.
On behalf of the staff and Trustees of the Bar Foundation, thank you so much for your support in 2021. In December, we distributed $401,743 in unrestricted grants to our nonprofit partners, consisting of 36 incredible civil legal aid organizations working in Philadelphia and around Pennsylvania. We are grateful for the generous donations from individuals and organizations that made these grants possible. Best wishes for a brighter 2022!