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December 04, 2007

Remarks of Chancellor-Elect A. Michael Pratt

It has been a pleasure working with Jane Dalton as she charted the course for our Association this year. Jane, you have been my mentor and friend and have been a shining example of intellectual strength, leadership and integrity. As I have said publicly several times this year, you are many things I wish I could be — eloquent, classy and brilliant.

It has also been a pleasure working with Sayde Ladov, who will follow me as Chancellor. Sayde not only brings insight, experience and enthusiasm to this Association, she also brings a style of effective leadership all her own. We work well together and we will forge the workings of a tremendous leadership team.

And congratulations to Scott Cooper, who runs uncontested today for Vice Chancellor, and who will serve as our 83rd Chancellor in 2010. I look forward to working with him.

This is a great day to be a Philadelphia lawyer for me! It is a tremendous honor to stand here as the incoming Chancellor of the greatest City bar association in America. Believe me, I have traveled across this country and observed other bar associations and legal communities and the Philadelphia Bar Association is something very special. Over the past couple of months, I felt the positive energy coming from countless well wishers and I feel that same energy as I look over this audience. I am most humbled that you chose this country boy, born in Grindstone, Pennsylvania, to lead this bar association in 2008.

Let me first welcome and thank the members of my very, very, VERY large family who traveled here to celebrate with me today. First, I ask that my mother Joan stand and be recognized along with my stepfather Edwin Tracy.

I also have 9 of my siblings and several of their spouses here today. Would all of you please stand.

My Aunt Beverly Penn is also here all the way from Denison, Texas.
I also feel blessed that my nine year old son, Christopher, is here with his father today.

Some of you may remember my first born and daughter, Jeanine, who grew up with me in this bar association. I ask her, my son-in-law Qwyn Durrett, and my granddaughter Jaelyn to stand and be recognized. And "YES", I am a grandfather!
There are two other very special people who couldn’t be here with me today. My thirteen year old daughter, Payton, chose school over daddy because of her youthful and honest desire to receive a perfect attendance certificate at the end of the school year. I do miss not having her with me today.
My father, Brady Pratt, passed away nine years ago. I know he would be very proud of his son, if he were here.

Finally, let me recognize my professional family at Pepper Hamilton. I would like to ask Robert Heideck, the Executive Partner of our firm, my trusted assistant, Lorraine Bradley, and all of the people here from Pepper to stand and be thanked for the support they have given me over the years, and for their extreme indulgence next year.

This great bar association is steeped in tradition and committed to our mission of serving the public and the profession by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the rule of law. But much like the rest of our society we haven't always been true to our mission and we haven't always made history for all the right reasons. Still, we have much to be proud of. For example, exactly five years ago, and exactly 10 years before that, two individuals really did make history on this platform when they broke through barriers for many of the rest of us. They were called the "firsts" and they helped make my Chancellorship possible. They were great Chancellors and are great friends. They make us proud. Andre Dennis and Audrey Talley.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one other first on the dais today — my professional big brother and colleague Michael Reed, the first and only African-American President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

As I contemplated my remarks today, I couldn't stop fretting about my greatest leadership weakness — that I am sometimes a bit too passionate and obstinate about issues that strike at my heart. So, I think it important to tell you a little about who I am and what drives that passion.

I was born in a small house in Grindstone, Pennsylvania. I was the fourth of twelve children and, sometimes we did have to share beds. We didn't have running water to our home and our bathroom was an outhouse. To say that we were not people of means, well, that would be a gross understatement.

But thanks to my mother, we did have means. We had the means to hope, the means to dream, the means to keep faith with ourselves and our family. And we also had the means to work hard and to help one another.

You see, Joan Tracy, was a young mother who married before finishing high school. For a good number of years, she was a single mother who provided for her family with little money, but loads of love, personal sacrifice and discipline. Her family was and is the number one priority in her life. I still remember her cleaning an entire church for ten dollars so she could buy her young basketball playing son, Anthony Michael, a pair of converse all stars that he wore out in a week.

But no matter how little we had, she would share our home and our food with anyone in need. I remember her taking in friends' children at various times to stay with us because they had nowhere else to go.

I also remember this young mother driving her car full of children to see a house she hoped we could rent, but being told by the landlord that he would not rent to us because we were black. But notwithstanding that and other discriminatory experiences, my mother always taught her children to judge people not by the color of their skin, but by loving standards of decency and humanity. The only admonition she ever gave us was that if your friends come to our home, you better be permitted to go to theirs.

My mother also instilled in us the importance of education by both word and deed. I still recall the image of my young mother walking in the snow to attend classes at the adult learning center so she could attain her high school degree. After putting me through college, she went to college herself, often taking just one class a semester at a time, until she received her college degree more than ten years later.

My graduation from law school was one of my mother's proudest moments. I remember on the day of my law school graduation, my mother took my diploma out of my hands and would not give it back. Come to think of it, I did not get it back until several years after practicing law.

My mother worked hard, and with help from my stepfather, she was later able to provide a better life for us. I’m proud to say that she also rose to become a prominent civic leader in her own right in our hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. She also continues to work tirelessly for her community even in her retirement years.

Mom, thank you for your love, teachings and sacrifices that now allow me to stand here today.

We enter 2008 in unsettled times. Yet, we must face the world as it is now.
How do we move forward with faith and fidelity in our mission?

I believe the answer lies in our values. I learned my values from my mother. I hold them deep in my heart. They are the values of family; of education; of giving back to those less fortunate; and of providing equal opportunity for all.

As Chancellor, the Philadelphia legal community is all my family. The bar association will, first and foremost, continue to look out for the interests of its members. In 2008, that will start with tax reform in the City of Philadelphia, which we know is a big issue for our new Mayor. I would first like to pledge to Mayor-Elect Nutter and his administration the support of the entire Philadelphia legal community in his efforts to achieve real solutions for a range of issues affecting our city.

Studies have shown time and again that the City's tax structure is one of the principal reasons why businesses leave Philadelphia, do not expand here, or never locate here. These studies are confirmed by our own experience as well as those of our clients. In dealings with business clients in the region, lawyers have repeatedly heard businesses express their concerns about the city's tax structure. And we understand those concerns.

For too long, city businesses have paid the nation's highest local business tax. And there is no reason that professional firms that are organized as partnerships should pay a higher tax rate than those organized as corporations. We will do our part to help reverse this trend. We will offer our resources to help the city address the inequality that is inherent in the Business Privilege Tax.

In 2005, City Council passed legislation cutting the net income portion and the gross receipts portion of the Business Privilege Tax over five years with the possibility that the tax would eventually be eliminated. We turned a corner. I hope that — going forward — discussions can focus on HOW we can phase out this tax rather than IF we need to phase it out.

I will appoint a special task force — of former City Solicitors, former political leaders and local legal tax experts — to provide hard data on the positive return that will be realized with the elimination of this onerous tax. We want to work closely with the Mayor and City Council to develop strategies for finally achieving this most important economic objective.

But our outreach will not stop there. Our values must also reflect our outreach to Philadelphia, especially to the youngest members of our community.
So, the second value I would like to discuss is education.

Elementary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania offer very little civics education. Most students learn about state government in the upper elementary curriculum, touch on the U.S. Constitution in middle school and spend only about two or three weeks reviewing civics in a U.S. history class. It is a sad commentary that more of our children can name the song of the week than can name the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

As lawyers who live and work in the City of Philadelphia, we must work to change that course. We all must care about the quality of the childrens' education who attend school here. Civics education should be elementary in the lives of our children and must be taught and learned early on. I feel this as a citizen, as a lawyer, and as a parent. Our children must learn the true meaning of a democracy, the rule of law, dispute resolution and, simply, how to be a good citizen.

To this end, we are establishing a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to send volunteer lawyers and judges into public school classrooms once a month. We will create a curriculum of civics education for our lawyers and judges to teach to them. Our goal will not be to replace teachers — that we are not qualified to do — but to assist and supplement their course teachings.

Chancellor Jane Dalton established a special task force on public school funding — which I have adopted — to investigate the inadequate funding of our schools and report on ways to direct resources so that quality education, including civics education, becomes the standard in our public schools — and not the exception.

That brings me to my third initiative — the third Joan Tracy value — giving back to help those unable to help themselves. For those individuals, access to justice is a daily struggle. For all of my 22 years of practice, I have heard countless stories of how local legal services groups are unable to provide critical legal advice to those struggling with poverty, abuse and discrimination because of the lack of financial resources. I have heard the same dispiriting Legal Services Corporation report that all of you have heard, that less than 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income Americans are being met.

As we head into 2008, the financial support for legal services remains in a very dismal state of affairs.

Two years ago this week, in his inaugural Chancellor address, Alan Feldman kicked off the Raising the Bar Campaign with a challenge to every law firm in our legal community, large and small, to contribute $300 per attorney to the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, Volunteers for the Indigent Program, or the legal services organization of their choice. Raising the Bar brought legal services giving to a new level with some smaller firms contributing multiples of $300 per attorney. We thank all of you for your support. But there is much, much more that can, and should, be done.

I understand well that Philadelphia law firms support many charitable endeavors across this region. But, the unfortunate reality is that Philadelphia law firms continue to lag behind law firms in other cities in per capita support for legal services organizations. In fact, of the billions of dollars of revenues generated by Philadelphia law firms in 2007, our law firms are estimated to give a total of only $1.4 million to support our legal services programs. That means our total law firm giving represents a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the income we generate.

We can — no, we must — improve our giving culture in this legal community. In 2008, I will first ask law firms to institutionalize their Raising the Bar contributions at $300 per attorney. But for those firms in a financial position to do so, I will ask for a three year commitment to increase their total legal services giving by 10% in each of those three years. That means new money!

I am pleased to report that two law firms, Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads and Feldman, Shepherd, Wohlgelernter, Tanner & Weinstock have already made this enhanced commitment. I am also very pleased to announce that Cozen and O'Connor has agreed to increase its total giving by 15 percent in 2008. Two other law firms, Morgan Lewis and Bockius and my law firm, Pepper Hamilton, have pledged to increase their total giving by 15 percent in each of the next three years. Over the next several months, we will be calling on others to join this enhanced effort.

That's not all we will do. For the last several months, I have been meeting with a special task force of law firm attorneys and public interest and bar foundation leaders who will address head-on what we can do to bring our legal community to a new echelon of charitable giving for legal services. We will be creative, aggressive and daring and we will leverage our law firm giving to seek funding from other sources. We will continue working hard so that we reach a level of impact that will bring Philadelphia closer than we have ever known to guaranteeing broad access to justice for thousands of disenfranchised and vulnerable individuals in the Philadelphia community.

Joan Tracy taught me to share no matter how little I have. Will those of us with plenty now dig a little deeper and give more?

Which brings me to the fourth value — equal opportunity. One of the most difficult subjects for us to discuss in this country, honestly and openly, is how to achieve the meaningful inclusion of minorities and women in the upper mainstream of society. I know it is an emotionally painful and complex subject for me. But in 2008, I want this association to not only continue that dialogue, but to take bold action to move us toward real inclusion in this legal community in a substantial way, once and for all.

In some large firms, minority lawyers are now hired more aggressively but often find long-term success elusive due to a lack of mentoring and practice development opportunities. In Philadelphia, lawyers of color continue to make up a small percentage of law firm attorneys and less than three percent of law firm partners.

The Philadelphia Bar Association leadership is not satisfied with the diversity status quo. We stand united in our determination to achieve meaningful integration of our legal community in the immediate future. And I am quite optimistic that members of this Bar Association will stand with us. As proof, I can't imagine there have been many, if any, other bar associations in America that have been led by two women and an African-American male, as we have this year.

Among other programs, we will institutionalize our support for meaningful and real diversity in the profession. The Board of Governors has approved the creation of a new, full-time position at the Philadelphia Bar Association: Director of the Office for Diversity.

Beginning on January 1st, the new Office for Diversity will work with legal employers to foster more diverse work environments. It will serve as a resource for individuals seeking to advance and develop their careers. It will provide infrastructure, strategic leadership, coordination, and continuity to diversity efforts. The new director will provide the vision, leadership and support to developing and carry out programs and practices to encourage diversity in the Philadelphia legal community.

And for the first time, the Bar Association will be able to collect and analyze data, ensure data accuracy, and report on the progress of the Philadelphia legal community in achieving diversity goals through studies and other means. We will also collect and disseminate information about evolving best practices aimed at recruitment, retention and promotion of a diverse and inclusive legal environment across demographic groups.

This new office will provide concrete support to build and maintain successful diversity efforts delivered in hands-on regular working sessions with targeted roundtables of diversity professionals, diversity chairs and managing partners.
It is long past time for firms, and the profession as a whole, to re-double their efforts on this front. Look around the room! We are a truly diverse legal community and I'm asking everyone to embrace this challenge. The Philadelphia Bar Association has always been on the cutting edge and I want the Philadelphia legal community to set the national standard by ensuring that all of our legal institutions reflect the diversity that is in this room today.

As attorneys, we have the unique opportunity to make a real difference in other people's lives. We make an impact on society. There is a legacy of service that we provide. We also serve as role models for others — educating our communities and developing relationships in ways that we otherwise wouldn't.
You know, growing up, I didn’t know any lawyers. I thought I would probably get an undergraduate business degree, get a nice job and call it a life. But I found my way, in large part, because there were people who reached out and engaged me along the way. They were kind, generous, ordinary people — like all of you in this room — who wanted to see me succeed.

But while their words impacted me profoundly, none provided the sheer strength and unconditional love that I received from my mother.

I have come to what I believe in, because of the values she taught me.
So now, today, I ask that you join with me so that — in the year ahead — with our strong values, together we might give this "greatest of great" bar associations, the bright and lasting promise that it so truly deserves.

Thank you.

Listen to the remarks here.

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