By Thomas A. Brophy, president emeritus at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C., and president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation distributed a total of $556,550 in grants in December to nearly 40 civil legal aid organizations in Philadelphia – 22% more than we provided in 2016. These grants were awarded in support of general operations and the Bar Foundation’s Trustees, staff, and volunteers are proud of this achievement. For those of you that provided in-kind and financial donations in 2017, we are very appreciative of your commitment.
During the 2017 grant cycle, we also added a new nonprofit partner to our list of grant recipients: Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE). This organization was founded in 2010 by four civil rights lawyers in order to create an alternative legal service model for the communities most affected by criminal history record information and other social justice inequities. PLSE is doing terrific work in our Philadelphia communities and we encourage you to learn more about their programs.
Additional Highlights from 2017
We are proud of our 2017 grant-making outcome and our other notable successes, one of which was securing support and momentum for the Philadelphia Equal Justice Center. In the spring of last year, our development partner, Pennrose, was selected by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to build on the lot occupying most of the area between Race Street and the Vine Street Expressway, between Eighth and Ninth Streets. Since that time, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, Pennrose, and the architecture firm WRT LLC, have diligently pressed the Equal Justice Center forward, and it will be the first building constructed at the site.
The Equal Justice Center will make it possible for litigants to travel to one location to get answers for various legal questions and problems through the consolidation of dozens of legal-aid agencies now spread across the city. This substantial collaborative venture is the first of its kind in the United States, and has exciting implications for advancing the mission of the Bar Foundation.
Another highlight of 2017 was the growth of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s Board Observer Program that was only recently established in 2012. The program operates in partnership with the Young Lawyers Division and the Delivery of Legal Services Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association. The 2018 cohort of Board Observers contains 57 participants – the largest group of new lawyers to date ¬– who are placed in an observer role with a Philadelphia nonprofit board, many of whom are the Bar Foundation’s nonprofit partners. Involvement in the program raises awareness of the need for legal aid and nonprofit support in our region. Many of the Board Observers continue to serve in nonprofit board and leadership roles at the end of this experience. This is evidence of the program’s effectiveness and it is the program’s legacy. It is our hope that this program will grow even more through the years.
Our Scope of Support for the Legal Aid Community
It is my pleasure to serve a second year as the president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and to support its important mission of promoting access to justice for all people in our community. The Bar Foundation employs a broad scope of work in order to accomplish that mission in addition to the core activity of providing grants to our nonprofit partners. Many lawyers, law firms, and business professionals may not be aware that there are programs (such as the Board Observer Program), awards, fellowships, and events throughout the year that also support our mission.
Each year, the Bar Foundation issues awards that acknowledge and promote excellence and accomplishment in the legal profession for pro bono service, public interest service, nonprofit legal aid achievement, and historical role models for justice:
• Our Pro Bono Award is presented annually to a law firm or corporate legal department that demonstrates outstanding volunteer efforts in providing pro bono legal services in Philadelphia. Our 2017 honoree for this award was Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
• The Honorable Louis H. Pollak Champion of the Public Interest Award honors a private practice attorney who has provided extraordinary service in their career that advances access to justice for all. Richard C. Glazer, Esq. received this award in 2017 for his commitment to public service.
• 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.
• Launched in 2016, Trailblazers for Justice are recognized every other year for their work in advancing the cause of civil rights. Sadie T.M. Alexander was our inaugural recipient of this honor.
• The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award recognizes a public interest attorney who is dedicating his or her life to equal access to justice by working in the nonprofit legal services field. We were proud to present Ayodele Gansallo, Esq., a senior staff attorney at HIAS Pennsylvania, with this award in 2017.
A notable Bar Foundation initiative is The R. Nicholas Gimbel Fund for Legal Excellence. The Bar Foundation offers this trial advocacy skills training to our nonprofit partner organizations at no cost during an acclaimed three-day intensive program in conjunction with Rutgers Law School. The program faculty are comprised of some of the best trial lawyers and teachers throughout the United States. We also offer a writing skills program of the same caliber.
There are several fellowship programs that the Bar Foundation administers in support of individuals who have committed their professional careers to public service:
• 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.
• 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 Morris M. Shuster Public Interest Fellowship Program provides awards each year to deserving public interest attorneys to help them retire their law school debt.
We administer the Association of Corporate Counsel Greater Philadelphia’s (ACCGPA) Diversity Corporate Internship Program which sponsors an annual full-time, eight-week Diversity Corporate Summer Internship Program, aimed at increasing diversity within corporate legal departments.
In addition, it is our privilege to administer the Judge Alfred L. Luongo Fund in support of the “Supervision to Aid Reentry” (or STAR program) of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which provides assistance and resources to ex-offenders who are reintegrating into the community, including help with employment, housing, and health care.
Finally, we have a unique LexisNexis Research Grant Program that provides our nonprofit partners with online research time, tools, and training at no cost.
As you can tell from this comprehensive list, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is in a unique position to identify sector-wide needs and marshal the resources to address issues in effective and timely ways. With your help, we can continue this comprehensive approach as we work to close the access to justice gap.