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A Lasting Impression: Jane Leslie Dalton

by David T. Sykes

Winter 2007, Vol. 69, No. 4

I first met Jane Leslie Dalton in the fall of 1969 when Roly Morris and I interviewed her for a summer associate position at Duane Morris & Heckscher. Jane was a second-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and she instantly captivated us with her poise, engaging style and interest in the firm. We were impressed not only with her questions about how she would fit into a firm that had no women lawyers, but that her questions did not assume she would encounter challenges. She was wonderfully cheerful, and she made it clear she was delighted to discuss her possible future at the firm with us. She had no apprehension about embarking on this adventure. Jane made a lasting first impression that day.

As the 80th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Jane’s leadership will be distinguished by these very traits that I encountered at our first meeting more than three decades ago. In that time, Jane became the first woman associate and later the first woman partner at Duane Morris. She has met these experiences with the professionalism, confidence and cheerful nature that have propelled her to success as a top employment litigator and trusted colleague and friend.

From a young age, Jane was comfortable taking the lead. She spent many summers at her family’s vacation spot northwest of Toronto, often accompanying her father on fishing, target shooting and boating adventures. Her father, an engineer, imparted to her his meticulous nature, and she would later develop what she calls a compulsion to plan. He also imparted his appreciation and acceptance of people from all walks of life, regardless of race, religion, level of education or economic status.

Growing up in suburban Cleveland, her father’s role gradually transitioned from fishing buddy to school dance chaperone at Hathaway Brown, the all-girls high school she attended. He was an enthusiastic chaperone and kept up with the kids as they twisted, rocked and rolled, and performed all the other latest dance steps. Jane took after him — her high school yearbook notes that she was “an enthusiastic organizer who adds zest to whatever she undertakes,” had “infectious optimism” and was “never without something to say.”

In her sophomore year, her father’s advice greatly influenced Jane’s future. Despite the pessimism expressed by her school’s headmistress about Jane’s potential to succeed in advanced courses, her father disagreed, telling her that success is a result of determination, drive, focus and the ability to get along with others. Her parents’ example encouraged her to continue to excel in school, and she attended Smith College, where she was an honors student, field hockey player and Glee Club member. She found further support in the atmosphere at Smith, where women were expected to excel and achieve.

“My four years at Smith taught me that I could do anything,” Jane recalls.

What a shock, then, to begin job-hunting in Philadelphia after graduation and be routinely asked if she could type. Jane, who had recently married John Elliott, then a lawyer at the Dilworth firm, considered becoming an urban planner and spent two years at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Working with attorney Isadore Gottlieb, Jane helped enforce contracts with homeowners in Society Hill who received low-interest loans to renovate and restore their homes to their eighteenth-century design.
At the time, women had limited opportunities for promotion there, and she was soon convinced that practicing law was a better path. While she considered what to do next, Jane’s husband observed presciently that Jane would not like law school but would enjoy practicing law.

Jane applied to one law school — Penn — and was accepted.

At Penn, Jane treaded still-new ground. Her law school class, which matriculated during the first year in which men were not deferred from the draft because of graduate school attendance, had twenty-two women. The two classes before hers had eight and two women, respectively. Statistics at law schools and at law firms in the late 1960s and the early 1970s demonstrate that there were few women lawyers.
After her first year at Penn, Jane worked as a summer associate at Drinker Biddle and Reath. One project, for which she researched international law to help a family make a claim against a government for a missing relative’s confiscated property, helped her realize that her husband’s prediction rang true: Her real joy was in dealing with clients’ problems, not law school hypotheticals.

Jane received offers for second-year summer associate positions from several firms, some of which employed women lawyers. Nevertheless, Jane chose Duane Morris, which then had no women lawyers. Undaunted, Jane selected a firm where she would be a pioneer.

After accepting Duane Morris’ offer, Jane became pregnant and, with some apprehension, apprised the partners at Duane Morris of the news. To her relief, her good news was welcomed and her summer associate offer remained open. Jane worked for seven weeks during the spring and summer of 1970 and gave birth to her first child, Jack, in July of that year. She never considered deferring her last year of law school and graduated in 1971.

Maurice Heckscher, the firm’s senior estates and trusts partner, was an important influence on Jane in two ways. First, he offered her an associate position just after she gave birth to Jack and gently urged her to take all the time she needed to make up her mind about her career as a lawyer. She had wanted to jump at the chance immediately, but Maurice set a more reasonable date of October 1. Jane joined Duane Morris in September of 1971 as the firm’s first woman associate.

As Jane progressed in the practice of law, her colleagues remember her as a person who loved dealing with real legal problems and willingly accepted the possibility of becoming a pioneer at a large law firm. There was no way she would not become a successful lawyer.

Shortly after they joined the firm, Jane and her law school classmate, Frank Cooper, assisted Maurice and Henry Reath, chair of the trial department, in litigation regarding a contested will. Much was at stake. Henry argued vehemently on every point, and Maurice, in his gentlemanly, elegant way, provided quiet counterpoints that often carried the day. Observing their different approaches showed Jane that there is a time for vigorous argument as well as a time for quiet persuasion.

Jane credits Henry, her first mentor, with her development as an employment litigator. Young associates at Duane Morris who were assigned to work with Henry were usually daunted by the assignment. Henry was a difficult taskmaster who expected total dedication to the cases he worked on — unless family matters needed attention. Jane was one of the associates who managed to work well with Henry without being intimidated by him.

Henry taught her how to organize and try a complex case, and he also gave her responsibilities that few other young associates were afforded. As a junior associate, Jane interviewed all class members in a class action by women professors against their university and managed the relationships and work product of the university’s expert witnesses.

Dave Toomey would also prove influential to Jane’s career. The hallmark of Dave’s practice was preparation, a practice Jane also follows. Dave and Henry stood out in their contributions to the bar association and the community through pro bono efforts, and their examples strengthened Jane’s sense of responsibility to her colleagues and community.

Dave urged Jane to become involved in bar association activities and invited her to her first event, the Federal Bench-Bar Conference. She met Judge Luongo there, about a year before he became chief judge of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and he invited Jane, then a young associate, to join him at his lunch table, where the other diners were partners at large firms. Her bar activities often gave her opportunities for meetings and friendships that would not have occurred without her leadership activities.

Abe Reich, former Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and the chair of Fox Rothschild LLP, who has known and worked with Jane for many years, describes Jane as “solid as the Rock of Gibraltar – the consummate professional. She commands wide respect – she is forceful through the power of persuasion, not the decibel level of her voice. She has unparalleled dignity and will bring credit to our association as its leader.”

She is particularly proud of her service as co-chair of the Women in the Profession Committee, which gave her the means to help many women to move forward with their careers, just as she has done in serving as a mentor to the women attorneys at Duane Morris. In addition to her distinguished service on that committee, Jane has served as chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors, the Large Firm Management Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and the Public Service/Consumer Protection Committee.

When she served as a founding co-chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Business Law Section’s Human Resources Committee, she and her co-chair were named the Business Law Section’s Committee Chairs of the Year in 2001. She has been active in the Philadelphia Bar Foundation as a trustee (since 1994), serving as vice president and as the chair of the Fundraising Committee and the Access to Justice Campaign. Jane also has been active with the Prisoner’s Family Welfare Association and the Support Center for Child Advocates.

For several years, Jane had the difficult job of chair of the Police Advisory Commission. Appointed by then-Mayor Ed Rendell, she was asked to create procedures and processes for the commission to gain credibility in the civilian community and within the police department. The position required an immense commitment, a natural sense of diplomacy and the ability to relate to economically, racially and educationally diverse people.

Jane succeeded in that challenging role for several years. She unified a diverse group of commissioners in a common goal – improving relationships between the citizens of all communities in Philadelphia and the police department. When she resigned from the commission, her service was recognized with a proclamation from Mayor Street.

Jane received one of the 2005 Women of Distinction Awards, sponsored by the National Association of Women Business Owners and the Philadelphia Business Journal, because of her commitment to professional excellence and her community involvement. She also is an appointed member of the Judicial Council, which serves in an advisory role to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Jane has been the first chair in several employment class actions and is widely recognized as one of Philadelphia’s leading employment litigators. In addition to her professional accomplishments, she successfully raised a daughter and three sons.

All of Jane’s children were born while Jane was with Duane Morris, as a summer associate, an associate or a partner. Jack, Jane’s first child, was joined by Heather in 1973, Kirwan in 1978, and Kyle in 1981. All four graduated from Georgetown University. Jack graduated from Villanova Law School and works at his father’s firm. Kirwan works at a financial services company. Kyle attends Villanova Law School, having worked as a paralegal at his father’s firm. Jack has three sons — Jack, Pat and Matt — and a daughter, Kerry. Heather has three daughters: Ciara, Caitlin and Anna.

Jane returned to work at Duane Morris with a few weeks after giving birth to Heather, Kirwan and Kyle. Jane had no thought of taking extensive maternity leave – she wanted to practice law, to maintain her continuity with cases and clients, and to raise her children successfully. She has succeeded in achieving each goal. Her relatively short maternity leaves were right for her, she says.

“I always knew that I wanted children, and I wanted to practice law. There were no set time periods for maternity leave at Duane Morris when I had my children, so I did what I felt was best for me. My time with my children has been extremely important, and I have been able to be with them and also to serve our clients.”

Jane does reflect back on her early years with the firm and wonders whether her partners thought that she was “always pregnant,” but her children and grandchildren are her delight, and she is proud of her family’s successes.

Jane and her husband, Tom Holly, met in 1994 at the Unity church they both attended. Several years had passed since her divorce in 1991, and she was ready to meet someone special. Friends in the congregation suggested she meet Tom, and they soon agreed to brunch. As Tom recalls, the meal was more of an interview than a date. They began dating in 1995 and married in 1996.

When they are not spending time with their grandchildren, Jane and Tom spend weekends at their condominium in Brigantine, New Jersey, with their dog, Lillie, a bichon frise. Jane and Tom also enjoy travel. They have visited London, Paris, Florence, Monaco and Aruba, among other places, and their favorite travel photos are on display in their Chestnut Hill home, at the shore and in Jane’s office.
All who will work with Jane during her term as Chancellor will find that she is an accomplished professional, a motivating leader and a delightful colleague. Former Chancellor Audrey Talley, senior partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, holds Jane in high esteem:

"I think she is wonderful. She is rock solid – she has great judgment. She is really sensitive to the issues and beliefs of other people in dealing with the kinds of things that are brought before the Bar Association and taking any position and acting on it, understanding the impact it’s going to have and how the members will feel about it. Her actions are well thought out. She is just a great person to work with. She is fun. In addition to being very serious about her work and her approach to getting things done, she’s someone you can work with and have light-hearted moments and find the whole experience enjoyable."
Jane acknowledges the bar has done a lot of good, and she believes there is a lot of good the bar can still do. She views this post as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people, and she will surely strive to make her mark as leader of the Association as lasting as her first impression was on me.

David T. Sykes is of counsel at the law firm of Duane Morris LLP. He is a member of the Professional Guidance Committee, a former member of the Board of Governors and former chair of the Business Law Section and Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.