December 04, 2001
Remarks by Allan H. Gordon at December 4th Annual MeetingThank you Carl for that very gracious introduction.
Carl Primavera has led our Association this year with great dignity, keen intelligence and great warmth and humility. We needed these qualities in what has been a unique year. Carl never sought the spotlight that he deserved and so now I ask all of you to join me in shining the spotlight on Carl and thanking Chancellor Primavera for all he did this past year.
I also want to commend soon to be Chancellor-Elect Audrey Talley. Audrey and I have worked together extremely well this year and I am delighted and honored to have her as my partner as our Association enters its third century of service to the profession and the public.
I also want to thank our Chair of the Board of Governors, Shelly Fedullo, Vice-Chair Jeff Lindy and our Board members, section chairs and the entire Bar staff for the work you have done this year. It is all of you that make the Philadelphia Bar Association what it is. It is all of you who make a Chancellor successful.
As I stand here today, I am indeed overwhelmed. I have been trying cases in our courts for 36 years and I didn't think anything could match the euphoria of a jury verdict in my client's favor. I was wrong. This verdict by you, my peers and friends, surpasses even that. I came to the Bar in 1966 when William Klaus was the Chancellor. I never imagined then that I would one day join in the ranks of those like Bill Klaus, extremely dedicated men and women who preceded me in this position. I am honored and I must admit a bit fearful. Fearful that I will not be able to live up to the trust you have placed in me. I have however no fear about the strength of my commitment. I can assure you that I will devote my entire energy n this coming year to advance our profession, to our community and to make all of us proud to be Philadelphia lawyers.
I would like to spend just a couple of minutes telling you a little bit about myself. I was born in Philadelphia 61 years ago and when I was three years old my mother died suddenly. I spent the next seven years living with two sets of grandparents and then an aunt and uncle. When I was 11 years old, my dad remarried and I went to live with him. I attended the Philadelphia Public Schools and eventually Central High School. My life seemed relatively normal however for reasons that only psychiatrists might understand.
I was either unable or unwilling to apply myself at Central and so I became the class wise guy. When the end of our junior year arrived, we all met with Dr. Disharoon, the college guidance counselor. At that time, 100% of Central grads went on to college. I was about to break that rule. Dr. Disharoon after reviewing my transcript asked if I had ever considered working with my hands. That sounded like good advice to me and so I joined the Army for six months intending to make it a career. While in basic training, I met a Philadelphian who had just taken the Bar exam - Ramon Obod and Ray convinced me to not stay in the Army and consider going to college. I got out of the Army in March 1959 and I spent the next six months working in a scrap metal warehouse breaking automobile batteries. I didn't need much more incentive to go to college.
Temple University took a chance and accepted me. My academic performance improved but it was not until my senior year in college when I took a business law class that attending law school entered my mind. It was in Temple Law School where I began to apply myself. I was one of those strange people who liked law school. I will not bore you with the next 36 years but I want you to know it wasn't always a success. Early on in my career I became addicted to gambling and for a few years everything took a back seat to the sickness. My practice, my family and mostly my wife. Fortunately, I sought help and I stopped gambling in 1972 and have not gambled since. The rest has been an incredible ride culminating in this, which is the Super Bowl. I don't tell this story seeking any pat on the back but merely to emphasize to everyone especially the young people in our community that you can overcome obstacles and setbacks. We all have choices and we can choose to use a setback as an excuse for failure or as an opportunity to step forward.
As you all know 2002 is our 200th anniversary. The Philadelphia Bar Association is the oldest continuing metropolitan Bar Association in the United States. Before we look ahead to our third Century, I thought it would be interesting to look back to our beginnings
The first lawyers admitted to the Bar in Philadelphia were in 1682. By 1802 Philadelphia was the largest city in the country with 67,000 people within the municipality and its contiguous suburbs. In 1802 six men were admitted to practice in Philadelphia.
In 1802 the Law Society or Law Association was formed. There was at the time a second organization in Philadelphia known as The Associated Bar. These two organizations merged in 1827 to form what was known as the Law Association of Philadelphia. The first Chancellor was William Rawle and he served for nine years. A number of Chancellors who followed him served for 10-15 years. 1n 1912 they stopped serving multiple years and began serving two-year terms. In 1962 the Association adopted the current system of one-year terms.
This organization which started as a trade association has been blessed by having thousands of great lawyers as its members. We will this year feature 160 of them in our "Legends of the Law" in the spectacular Bicentennial Issue of the Philadelphia Lawyer Magazine. This will be something you will want to read and keep.
These great lawyers all have traits which set Philadelphia lawyers apart. A drive to excel. Continually working just a bit harder for our clients. The ability to look at legal problems in creative, ethical ways. We all know that the term Philadelphia lawyer was originally a complimentary term referring to Andrew Hamilton Counsel in the Peter Zenger case. Hamilton laid the groundwork for the concept of free speech more than a half century before the enactment of the First Amendment. In recent times the term has been used pejoratively, to mean sneaky or some other demeaning term. It is time that people understand that to be called a Philadelphia lawyer is a true honor. It is my intention to spread this message this year.
I wish time would permit me to tell you of all of the Bar Associations plans for 2002 today. But that isn't possible. There will be special events throughout the year, which will give each of you an opportunity to celebrate our Bicentennial. I do however want to remind you that next month we will welcome lawyers from throughout the nation to Philadelphia for the mid-year meeting of the American Bar Association. This is the first time we have hosted the ABA at such a meeting in more than a dozen years and it is truly exciting that our colleagues from around the nation will join with us in celebrating Century 3.
As we enter our Third Century, we can be proud of our accomplishments but we cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot be satisfied with having been the best Bar Association in the nation. We must continue to plan wisely and to improve to remain the best. That is why we are planning for the future with three important priorities in mind:
First is our important role as a professional association, dedicated to the needs and concerns of its members. We want to advance our Philadelphia lawyers and law firms as a vital integral part of the regional, national and international economy. We will work with local, state and federal officials to establish a partnership, which takes into consideration the important role that the legal profession plays in the economy of the region. Government must realize the impact our Philadelphia lawyers have on the fiscal health of the region. They should consider the tax base we represent; the amount of real estate we occupy and the amount of commerce we generate. We recognize the critical role that government plays and we hope that working together economic growth can be fostered for all involved.
Second is our commitment to serving the public interest.
Be clear about this: The Philadelphia Bar Association's pro bono commitment remains strong and steadfast Our record - which is really a model for the nation - inspires us to increase our efforts, especially during times like these. And we will do that.
But at the same time we will examine the delivery of pro bono services in context. We will do this in an open, inclusive, non-proprietary manner that welcomes sincere, constructive ideas and suggestions from every quarter. As many of you know, to carry out this mission I have appointed a task force under the direction of Sy Kurland and Aretha Delight Davis. I'm asking this task force to report back to me and the Board of Governors by April 30th so that we can promptly address the issues that are raised and plan for the future.
This task force deserves our support. It needs our help. It provides us with an opportunity to build and move forward so that the promise of "equal justice under law" can be kept for all. As lawyers we know the importance of process. Our process will be rational, deliberative and sensible. Within that process, let us all work together for the profession and the public so that others will know we are united in a common cause.
I recently heard ABA President Bob Hirshon speak before our public interest section about the need to encourage more lawyers to do more public interest work. I will strongly support President Hirshon's proposal to institute a debt forgiveness plan for law school grads who go into public interest work. Such plans are already the norm for new doctors and teachers why not lawyers? This is a fine idea and we will work to make it a reality.
Third, we will continue to work closely with our courts and our judges to continue to build a better justice system. Every year, our Philadelphia Bar Association and our Philadelphia lawyers work to set the pace for a better justice system; for a first-rate, well-qualified judiciary at every level; for the fair, efficient, economical delivery of legal services to all and for a stronger, better profession. We've made important strides in this direction this year but we can and will do more. We're fortunate to have excellent leaders - outstanding judges - at the helm of our courts at every level - - local, state and federal - - and we enjoy good relationships across the board. We will continue to support merit selection and the work of our Judicial Selection and Retention Commission. We will build on that in the public interest. And we will also forge new alliances and cooperative ventures wherever possible with other bar associations, law-related organizations and like-minded groups. Here, our goal is to better serve our members and the profession. So, we will seek opportunities to consolidate services, share resources and chart new paths - together - to serve others.
In service to the profession, to the public and to the courts we will not falter. Not here at the birthplace of liberty. Not now at this time in our history.
I cannot conclude these remarks without remembering September 11th. Why did September 11th happen? Awful things happen sometimes for no apparent reason. But we can look at ourselves honestly. Before September 11th many of us had become insular. We lived in our home entertainment centers, thought about our fancy vacations and didn't sufficiently care about others. And then we got a chilling wake-up call. The wind was knocked out of us. But Americans are resilient and we have gotten off the floor and some good has come from this horrendous attack. We realized how much we have to be thankful for. People have pulled together like never before since World War II. Perhaps we cannot change the world but no one can sit on the sidelines. We can take the model of the "Greatest Generation" and adopt it for the millennium generation. We can take the necessary steps so that the have nots in our world will have reason to hope for and believe in a better future.
We can help the victims of September 11th.
We have contacted Attorney General Ashcroft and Special Master Ken Feinberg and are volunteering our most experienced Philadelphia lawyers to assist pro bono in the enormous task of getting funds to the victims of September 11th. Towards that end, I will meet on Friday in New York with the President of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York to discuss and plan the implementation of this project.
I also intend to contact former Governor Ridge. Governor Ridge has perhaps the most daunting and important job ever and I want to find out how we Philadelphia lawyers can serve him. Our security and the security of all people in this great country are vitally important. However we cannot condone security without justice.
This is not a new concept - Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
We however should not have a knee jerk response. Just because someone has a new idea doesn't mean it should be rejected. We must put on our combined thinking caps to assure that people are safe but the basic rights and the rule of law are not forsaken.
I want to acknowledge some people who are here today without whose help today would not be possible. First my partners and associates at Kolsby, Gordon, Robin, Shore & Bezar. Their support, friendship and devotion are what allow me to be here and I will be forever grateful.
My family: my mother-in-law, Hilda Saner; my three daughters, Tara, Lauren and Pamela; my sons-in-law, Len Cohen and Cary Kochman;
and my youngest of six grandchildren, Dylan. Only Pamela has not become a lawyer and so you can imagine the trials, I mean discussions we have at family dinners. Last but certainly not least, my high school sweetheart and wife of 38 years, Sharon. She has been behind me on everything I have done and I thank her for her unwavering love and support. I want to acknowledge Herb Kolsby who couldn't be here today but who taught me how to be a trial lawyer; the leadership of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers who urged me to run for the Board of Governors years ago and Mark Aronchick who gave me the opportunity to Chair the Board during his Chancellorship.
I am not here alone. Not alone. I share this platform and this position with all those who have helped me and even all who have come before. I'm greatly strengthened by that. I can't say what tomorrow holds. But I know that the proud history of this Association compels us to champion the rule of law, to defend democracy and justice and to look forward - - helping to chart the nation's path - - with hope and determination.
Pay attention again to those great Philadelphia lawyers - those Legends of the Law that we will be spotlighting in our commemorative. And reintroduce yourself to the progressive, forward-driving tradition of this great Association. That living legacy resonates right here, right now.
Lastly, I want to thank you my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to serve. I am sure that as we continue to trust in our nation and its people, as we trust in democracy and the rule of law, as Philadelphia lawyers and Americans, we can proudly and confidently welcome our Third Century.