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An Interview with Allan H. Gordon, the Philadelphia Bar Association's 75th Chancellor

Winter 2002, Vol. 64, No. 4

Chancellor Allan H. Gordon is a trial lawyer at the law firm of Kolsby, Gordon, Robin, Shore & Bezar. In 2001, he handled a full caseload for the firm, but he plans to scale back in 2002 to devote more time to his role as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. As I entered his office, Allan Gordon observed that we couldn't have picked a more unfortunate time for an interview. Indeed, just two days after the terrorist attacks on America, there were more important things to focus on. Nevertheless, we proceeded, and he shared with me his feelings about the recent events and assured me that his agenda for 2002 was on track.

Q: Would you like to comment on the September 11 tragedies in New York, Washington and Western Pennsylvania?

A: This is the worst single national or world event that has occurred in my lifetime. It really puts everything in perspective. I would hope that we would take the time to appreciate how tenuous life is. As lawyers, we need to realize that there is more to life than billable hours and making money. I think we will feel that way for a while, but I hope we can continue to appreciate and enjoy life after the shock has worn off.

Q: In speaking of your lifetime and life experiences, who has been an inspiration or influence in your life?

A: I went into the military right out of Central High School, and I expected to make that my career. But while I was in basic training at Fort Knox, I met a man, Ramon Obod, who took me under his wing and got me interested in the law. But it was Herb Kolsby who taught me how to be a lawyer. After passing the bar in 1966, I started a small general practice with a few classmates, and I knew then that I wanted to devote my life to the law. A few years later, I decided I wanted to get into the more interesting, more challenging and more sophisticated practice of civil trials. So, I came to work with Herb. The first year, I worked for free. I was just happy to have the opportunity to work with people who really knew the profession and knew how to try cases.

There have been a number of people in the legal community, including Mark Aronchick, who have encouraged me to become more involved in Bar Association activities. While I had been a member of the Association for many years, I've only been actively involved for about the past ten years. I think most people pay dues but don't really participate much. That's a shame, because they don't know what they're missing. I found that I had missed out on being involved in many issues that were interesting and challenging. As an active member, I'm involved in areas of the law outside my normal realm.

Q: How has your knowledge and experience as a trial lawyer prepared you for your role as Chancellor?

A: As a trial lawyer, I hope I have established myself with lawyers and judges of all kinds as someone with integrity and a sense of fairness. My skills in persuasion and public speaking will be useful, as will my ability to learn quickly and get to the point.

Q: 2002 is a big year for the Bar Association. We're celebrating 200 years and the start of our third century of service to the Philadelphia legal community. Was being Chancellor in 2002 a specific goal of yours?

A: Not at all. When I first expressed an interest in the Chancellorship, I didn't even realize that it would mean serving in 2002, during the 200th anniversary.

Q: So, how did it come about?

A: Initially, I was asked to run for a position on the Board of Governors, and I did. At first I thought it was something I would not enjoy doing, both running for the office and being on the Board. But I found that I enjoyed going out and meeting with lawyers. It gave me an opportunity to use my legal skills in a new and different capacity. One of the things I learned is that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Once I got involved and became Vice Chair of the Board of Governors, people started asking me, "Are you going to run for Vice Chancellor?" It was something I'd never thought about, but I began to consider it. I looked at what some past Chancellors had done, and I thought about the enormous responsibility involved. One of the first people I talked with was Marc Sonnenfeld. He reminded me that being Vice Chancellor in 2000 meant being Chancellor in 2002. For a long time he had expressed interest in being Chancellor in the anniversary year. I asked whether he still wanted that, and he said no. So I went for it.

Q: When your year as Chancellor is up, what do you hope will be the legacy?

A: I would like people in the community to have a greater respect for lawyers. I hope we will have the opportunity to showcase what lawyers have done in the past, what we're doing now and what we'll do in the future to continue to make Philadelphia a better place to live and work. No group does more by way of charity, yet we don't get the credit for it. Nobody likes lawyers, but everybody wants their children to become lawyers. From a personal standpoint, I would like Bar members to think that I represented them well, that I was a fair and honest leader. I'd like people to continue to think of me as a good lawyer and a nice guy.

Q: What are some of your specific goals for the year?

A: I see 2002 as a springboard for the next century. I think this is a natural time for us to ask, "What should the Bar Association be doing and what should we change?" I plan to focus on making the Bar Association more relevant and meaningful to its members. We need to find ways to get more people involved and interested in the organization. I'd also like to see us improve our working relationship with local area bar associations. If we work together, the value of each organization can be advanced: the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (L.R.I.S.) could be broadened; services and prices from vendors might be better; and we may have a greater voice with the Pennsylvania bar if we're unified on issues. There are also some nuts-and-bolts issues such as insurance and court system relationships that we can target for improvement.

Another goal is the re-evaluation of the Bar's delivery of legal services to the community. We know the need is there, and we're doing a good job, but I think we could do a better job. We need to determine the best use of our time and money, and we need to be sure we're providing the best legal representation to the clients. Does it make sense for a lawyer who has spent his or her career handling estates and trusts to be handling a case on a pro bono basis on something other than that?

Also, we need to continually update the technology at the Bar Association and maximize its usage. We need to be more responsive, get information out faster and easier, and we need to make it easier for members to use the services provided by the Bar.

There are goals for the Association that will not be achieved in just one year. Some may take two or three years. I have been talking with Chancellor-Elect Audrey Talley about continuing those efforts during her year as Chancellor, and she has agreed to do so.

Q: How can the Bar Association play a bigger role in the life of this city?

A: Let me just say that I've been to bar president meetings in other cities, and our Bar Association is already one step ahead of other bar associations. Reaching the level of the Philadelphia Bar Association is the goal of almost every other bar association in the country. But I do think we can do a better job of making the city and state government aware of our needs. The legal profession is the third most important profession in the community (by virtue of taxes paid and number of people), behind the education and medical professions, yet we have not taken full advantage of that. I would like to see the Bar improve relations and involvement with the Street administration and with City Council. I intend to extend a hand and work together to make Philadelphia a better place to live and work.