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December 05, 2017

The Inaugural Address of Mary F. Platt, 91st Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association

Mary F. Platt photo

Good afternoon, Everyone.

And congratulations to President Judge Neifield, Ben Picker, and Alfonso Madrid, on their well-deserved awards, and to Lizzy Wingfield, for winning the Justice Ginsburg Legal Writing Competition.

Thank you, Debbie, for your kind remarks, and thanks to all of you who supported me when I ran for Vice Chancellor two years ago.

It has been a pleasure to work with Debbie this year. Debbie has devoted practically all of her time to the Association. She has shown outstanding leadership and provided many opportunities for our members to serve our legal community and improve access to justice. She has held nearly a dozen Chancellor and Community Forums, expanded pro bono services, helped to create and lead Take Action Philly in supporting Philadelphia’s immigrant community, and issued almost two dozen media statements on topics near and dear to our legal community.

Debbie also helped our Bar Foundation make significant progress on the development of an Equal Justice Center, which will house a number of legal services agencies under one roof at 8th and Vine Streets.

With that said, it is truly an honor to be your incoming Chancellor. Having worked in the Association’s trenches for many years and looked up to those who served as Chancellor, I am very proud to be your next Chancellor.

I am so grateful to my husband, Earl, our son, Eric, and our daughter, Katie, for supporting me in my career. Earl and I were very fortunate to have my Mother and Earl’s parents care for our children when we had to work late or travel. As many of you know, it truly takes a village to be a lawyer and a parent!

I would like to thank the lawyers and staff at my firm, Fineman Krekstein & Harris. They were a tremendous help to me when I ran for Vice Chancellor, and have supported my spending a significant portion of my time on Association activities.

For those of you whom I have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know, I would like to share a little about my background.

I grew up in the law at Montgomery McCracken, where I worked as a summer associate after my second year at Georgetown University Law Center, and then as an associate and equity partner for 31 years after graduation from the Law Center.

When I began my legal career, women were just starting to become lawyers in larger numbers. Georgetown had many women law students, so it was not apparent to me that I was in a profession dominated by men until I started working at Montgomery McCracken with three other new women associates. The four of us brought the total number of women lawyers to 9 out of about 80 lawyers at the firm. And none of the women were partners back then.

I was fortunate to be hired by Montgomery McCracken because the women lawyers there formed a women’s lawyers group soon after I started working. Our group persuaded the Management Committee to adopt a maternity leave policy, and helped women lawyers become partners and develop business.

Having gone to a women’s college, I always enjoyed bonding with and supporting other women. And that is why I first became involved in the Philadelphia Bar Association. I joined the Women in the Profession Committee when I was a young partner because it helped me network with women lawyers outside my firm. They became my good friends, and worked with me on programs to help women lawyers advance in our profession.

I went on to chair that Committee, then chaired the Federal Courts Committee, several other Committees, and the Law Practice Management Division. I also was elected to be a member of the Board of Governors, Assistant Treasurer, and Treasurer before my election as Vice Chancellor.

Why did I dedicate so much of my time to the Philadelphia Bar Association? The reason is that I always considered being a lawyer much more than a job. I decided to go to law school because I saw the law as a means of improving our society.

In our country, lawyers and judges are the system of justice. So in addition to doing our jobs, we have an obligation to work toward improving our laws and ensuring equal access to justice for all. I became involved in our Association because it gave me opportunities to fulfill this obligation.

Engraved on the Market Street side of the federal courthouse are the words: “Justice, the Guardian of Liberty.” The same words appear on the east pediment of the US Supreme Court. While justice is the guardian of liberty, Philadelphia lawyers and judges are the guardians of justice in our community, and our Bar Association enables lawyers and judges to play this role.

There are many legal associations in our community, but our Association is unique in that it serves the interests of all lawyers and judges in Philadelphia. We connect everyone in our legal community, and enable them to work together to move up in their careers, improve our justice system, and serve our legal community and community-at-large.

We connect lawyers in other legal associations with each other, too. For example, our Diversity in Profession Committee includes leaders of the affinity bar associations, who meet monthly to talk about programs they can do together to make our legal community more diverse and inclusive. Our Delivery of Legal Services Committee includes representatives of 38 legal service agencies who work together to improve access to justice in Philadelphia.

Our Association connects the bench and bar by working closely with our courts to improve our system of justice, ensure equal access to justice, and serve our community. For example, several judges in the First Judicial District teach civics courses in Philadelphia schools with lawyers in our Advancing Civics Education Program. And next year, our Federal Courts Committee and Young Lawyers Division (better known as the YLD) will work with the Eastern District on a project to encourage citizens in the Eastern District to serve on juries.

We are a nonpartisan organization made up of members with different political views, but our commitment to the rule of law and our justice system is what unites us.

For this reason, it is important that the Philadelphia Bar Association stands up for the core values that we share as attorneys—namely, respect for the rule of law and the judiciary, separation of powers, constitutional rights, access to justice, the independence of the judiciary, diversity and inclusion, and civil rights.

Our Association has, and will continue when I am Chancellor, to defend these core values and speak out on issues relating to them when necessary. We will defend the judiciary when judges are unjustly criticized or attacked, recommend improvements to court rules, and lobby City Hall and the General Assembly in Harrisburg to enact laws that are fair and just.

Like all bar associations, we face financial challenges, because lawyers are not joining the Association in the same numbers as they did earlier in my career.

Enrollment in law schools and job opportunities have declined. Many local firms and other employers focus less on what is going on in Philadelphia because they have regional, national or global practices. My baby boomer generation is getting older and retiring, and the millennials and genXers have moved in and are becoming leaders in our profession.

My goal next year will be to encourage everyone in our legal community to be members of our Association because of all we do to improve our profession, increase access to justice, and defend the core values that protect our democracy. That said, the changes going on in our profession present challenges, so let me turn to how we will address these challenges in 2018.

I am going to ask the Board and our staff to consider the trends, and find ways to meet the changing needs of our Philadelphia legal community so that we can increase membership, and ensure that the Bar has the resources needed to continue serving the important roles that I have talked about.

Early in the year, our staff and Board of Governors will develop a plan that will set goals based on our core values and strategies to achieve these goals. I believe having such a plan in place will ensure greater continuity in programming, keep the Association focused on its mission, and provide more opportunities for input from our Board and staff.

Because the times they are a changing, our Association has to change with the times. For the past year and a half, our Bylaws Committee, chaired by Marc Zucker, has been reviewing and considering revisions to all of the Association’s Bylaws for the first time in many years. Next year, the Committee will hold a meeting with our members to discuss the proposed changes, take the proposed revisions to the Board for approval, and ask members to vote on the revisions at a quarterly meeting.

To attract members, we need to do more to open our doors and add value to membership. I want to support and energize our Committees, Sections, and the YLD next year because they are the primary means by which we attract and engage members. I asked the 2017 and 2018 Section and YLD chairs to sit on the dais today because I want you to know who they are, and I want to thank them for all they do for our Association.

These lawyers run mini bar associations within our Association. Their groups provide opportunities for our members to play leadership roles and raise their profiles in the community by presenting at CLEs and other programs. They make it easy for members to provide pro bono legal services, and work together to ensure equal access to justice and help low-income residents of Philadelphia.

Next year, I will ask all of our Committees, Sections, and the YLD to identify and hold at least one person in their groups accountable for increasing membership. I want them to attract and retain members by creating pathways to leadership, and offering members opportunities to connect with other members, and to organize and present at CLEs and other programs.

Just like I first became active in the Philadelphia Bar Association by participating in the Women in the Profession Committee, lawyers who become active in our Committees, Sections, and YLD will learn important leadership skills, spread the word about how great it is to be a member of the Association, and become Bar leaders.

I also want to revive the Law Practice Management Committee and make Technology its focus so that the Committee can help members understand and utilize technology to support their practices and improve access to justice.

Artificial intelligence is being used more and more in the practice of law and the judicial system. To name just a few, there are AI systems that research and analyze legal questions, predict the outcome of cases, assist courts in making bail and parole decisions, and fill out complaint forms based on a litigant’s response to a list of questions.

We need to understand and consider how technology can be used appropriately in our profession. And our Professional Responsibility and Professional Guidance Committees need to ensure that our Rules of Professional Conduct protect clients in the face of these technological changes.

It is sad, but not surprising, that a recent study by the ABA and the Hazledon Betty Ford Foundation found that lawyers are among the most stressed and depressed professionals. Because lawyers, like the general population, are experiencing mental health issues, I want to expand on the Mindfulness Initiative that the Business Law Section started last year under Kathy Jaffari’s leadership, and create a Wellness Committee.

The Wellness Committee will promote practices like mindfulness, meditation, and nutrition that will improve our members’ quality of life. The Committee also will educate our community regarding mental health issues so that members can deal with these issues in their own lives, and law firms can identify and support colleagues who are experiencing mental health problems.

I also want to reestablish a separate Mid-Size Law Firm Committee that will focus on the needs of lawyers in mid-size firms, and ask the Women’s Rights Committee to do more programming on legal issues that are impacting women in our society these days.

With all of these tasks to do next year, we will not lose sight of an important goal of our Association – improving access to justice. As the guardians of justice in our City, we must ensure that our legal system works for all citizens in Philadelphia, including those who cannot afford legal services.

Our Bar Association will continue to encourage members to provide pro bono services and work with the courts to ensure that everyone has equal access to justice.

The Pro Bono Task Force that was formed this year and led by Annette Rizzo and John Lavelle, recently issued its 2017 Report. The Report recommends ways to increase pro bono service by lawyers in different types of practices as well as paralegals. Annette and John have agreed to form a group next year to implement the recommendations in the 2017 Report.

Another area of great importance to me and to our profession is diversity and inclusion.

Our profession has become more diverse over the course of my career, but women lawyers, lawyers of color and LGBTQ lawyers often feel compelled to leave their workplaces. Some even abandon their legal careers entirely. Why? Reports show they feel that they are not being treated equally and that colleagues don’t respect and value them.

We are fortunate to have affinity Bar groups in our City that provide awesome support to their members and know best what their members are experiencing in the workplace.

These groups have become important pipelines for new leaders in our Association. As Chancellor, I look forward to continuing the Association’s partnership with these affinity groups to make our profession more diverse and inclusive.  

I will work hard next year to make the Bar Association as relevant as possible to current and potential members. We want to be not just the oldest, but the best bar association in the country.

Everyone in the Philadelphia legal community should want to be a member of our Association because we are the only organization in the City that does what we do. We are uniquely positioned to unite the entire legal community in efforts to improve our laws, our profession, and our justice system, and connect everybody.

In addition, lawyers can derive many benefits from being active members of our Association, and we need to help them recognize and enjoy the benefits.

I thank those of you who have been active members of our Association, and ask you to consider running for an office, and encourage others to join and become active members. There are lots of ways for lawyers to become active in the Association, especially now that we have our own CLE program that members can attend for credit or no credit.

And it does not take a lot of effort to interest someone in becoming an active member. For example, my colleague, Lee Applebaum, who is a former officer and chair of the Business Law Section and recipient of the Section’s Al Dandridge Diversity Award, told me that he first became interested in becoming an active member when I put him on a Federal Courts Committee panel several years ago.

For those of you who are not active members, I ask for your input, participation, and engagement. I invite you to attend events and programs, organize and present at CLEs and other programs, volunteer your time and talent, write an article for one of our publications, and share your ideas.

I look forward to working with all of you, our hard-working staff, Chancellor- Elect, Shelli Fedullo, and soon to be Vice Chancellor, Mike Snyder, on the initiatives that I have outlined today. Only by working together, can we make our Association stronger and do a better job of serving the needs of our members, our justice system, and our community-at-large.

Thank you.

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