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April 08, 2021

Philadelphia Bar Association Leadership Remembers Former Chancellor Doreen Davis

Davis, a national figure in labor and employment law and the first working mother to hold the position of Chancellor, died April 7.

Doreen Davis on Bar Reporter Cover Image

Doreen Davis, a nationally-known labor and employment attorney who served as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 2000, becoming the first working mother to hold the position, died on April 7.

“Doreen was a trailblazer in many senses of the word,” said Chancellor Lauren P. McKenna. “She was a dedicated leader, mentor, lawyer and mother; a champion of civility in the practice of law, and in her year as Chancellor encouraged our community to adopt practices that, while more commonplace today, were innovative at the time, including flexible work arrangements, family leave options and even then-cutting-edge technology like an Association website and an online version of our monthly publication, The Philadelphia Bar Reporter.”

When Davis became Chancellor in 2000 she was the first working mother to hold the position – which her daughter, Samantha, then 10, called “the boss of all the lawyers – even Dad.”

“Doreen was simply one of the most delightful persons I have ever known. Whip-smart, funny, devoted and loyal friend, talented chef and much more, my wife Maureen and I treasured the time we spent with Doreen and her husband Robert,” said former Chancellor Alan Feldman, founder and co-managing shareholder at Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP.

During Davis’ time as Chancellor, the state Supreme Court adopted the Code of Civility, which applies to all judges and lawyers in Pennsylvania and outlines principles of courteous behavior to be followed during legal proceedings. The Association also adopted its seven Principles of Professionalism, which note in the preamble that “the quality of the legal profession and the administration of justice will be enhanced if lawyers and judges treat each other, clients, and other participants in the judicial system with courtesy, respect and civility.”

“A judge should be patient, courteous and civil to lawyers, parties and witnesses. We of course owe judges the respect due their office and their persons,” Davis wrote in a column on the topic for The Philadelphia Bar Reporter. “These are just a few examples. But progress on civility in even a few areas can begin to make a real difference, so much so that I think it’s worth a try.”

Davis, who also served as chair of the Young Lawyer’s Division and on the Association’s Board of Governors, used her platform as Chancellor to push for policies to help lawyers balance their professional and personal lives, encouraging firms to adopt maternity and paternity leave and flex-time and part-time options, in addition to stronger policies around diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I look forward to a time when all working parents – mothers and fathers – will be part of a profession that fully accommodates the legitimate priorities of parents with balance, care and understanding,” Davis said during her opening remarks to the Association at the Annual Meeting in December 1999. The Association also introduced a Family Friendly Award during her tenure, which recognized firms that were working to address those issues.

She also introduced mail voting for the first time in Association history, significantly expanding the number of lawyers participating in Bar elections.

A graduate of Penn State and Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, Davis began her career as a field attorney with the National Labor Relations Board and went on to be recognized as one of the top labor and employment lawyers in the country. She spent 10 years at Montgomery McCracken Walker and Rhoads LLP, including four as chair of the firm’s labor and employment department. Davis joined Morgan Lewis & Bockius as a partner in 2001 and became co-chair of the labor management relations and labor disputes practice, splitting her time between the Philadelphia and New York offices. She joined Jones Day in New York as a partner in the labor and employment practice in 2012.

One of six children, Davis was the first person in her family to graduate from college. In a 1999 profile story in The Philadelphia Lawyer, Davis said she wanted to be a lawyer for as long as she can remember, in part inspired by a character from her favorite book series as a child, the Nancy Drew mysteries.

“The first lawyer I knew in fiction, the lawyer who really was the example to me and led me into the profession, was Carson Drew, Nancy's father,” said Davis, who in the same interview noted that as an adult she always had a pile of 5-7 unread books by her bedside. “As a girl, I devoured the Nancy Drew books. After I had been reading them for a while, I started to wonder why Nancy herself couldn't be a lawyer. But still I was very impressed with Carson Drew; the fact that he was a lawyer and what he did seemed like a profession that was very honorable, noble, learned.”

In that same interview, Davis was asked about the most important qualities of lawyers. She responded directly and concisely: “Lawyers must be honest, ethical and true to their word.” She went on to say that in her own practice, she strived to embody these qualities and maintain credibility with clients and colleagues alike.

Davis is survived by her husband, Robert Simmons, and her daughter Samantha, who also went on to become a lawyer and is currently associate director of graduate programs at the University Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School.

“Doreen was an authentic profile in courage, refusing for more than 20 years to allow the cancer she lived with to overcome her zest for life,” Feldman said. “We will miss her terribly.”

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