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December 08, 2004

Remarks of Chancellor Andrew A. Chirls at Annual Meeting

I really am grateful to all of you for your warm greeting and you, Gabe, for your kind introduction. It does mean a lot to me. It also means a lot to me to have worked on a team this year with Gabe Bevilacqua and Alan Feldman. So, first I ask you to join me in expressing our thanks to Chancellor Gabe Bevilacqua.
A year ago, at this podium, Gabe said that he would remind us of the values that are part of our profession, and he has done that. He has revived our Bench-Bar Conference -- and we will do it again next year. He has championed the cause of our Commerce Court -- and we will continue to do that next year. He has created the State Civil Litigation Section -- and I look forward to working with it next year. I thank him and I ask you to join me in thanking him.
And our thanks go to Alan Feldman, who will follow me in this position. Alan brings tremendous insight, experience and enthusiasm to this Association. I am proud to have him as part of the leadership. And congratulations to Jane Dalton, who runs uncontested today and who will serve as our 80th Chancellor. I look forward to working with her. In fact, I'm looking forward to working with all of you.
While it is my job to support you this year, there are others who have supported me so I could get here. Please let me introduce them to you. First, I am fortunate to have known the love and support of a wonderful family. I remember the day in November 1981 when my father came to the Supreme Court's ceremonial courtroom in City Hall to watch me take the oath as a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He took great pleasure in all of his three sons. One of the things he could say that made him swell up with more pride was "My son is a Philadelphia lawyer." That's a great two-word title-- Philadelphia lawyer-- and he was entitled to be proud of it. I hope that I will succeed in making you continue to be proud of being a Philadelphia lawyer, too.
There is one person you have made particularly happy by choosing me to lead this association. Everything I know about how to behave in public and in private is a product of her example. My mother, Janet Wilen, came here from Florida to be with us today.  I am pleased to thank you on her behalf and to introduce you to her. My mother's husband, Abe Wilen, and my two brothers are here, along with other members of my family. I ask them to stand and be recognized. 
On the subject of family: Many of you know that I went steady for twenty-five years, and that I had a wedding last year. I met Larry Frankel during our first week of law school, and I have had the good fortune to be with him ever since. Some of you know him for his leadership role with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. I know him as my inspiration, my joy, my common sense and the source of so many good things in my life. Let me thank and introduce you to Larry Frankel.
Family  includes my professional "family" at Wolf Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen. I'm one of the rare people in America who has had the same job for 23 years. It has been a privilege to have it. At Wolf Block, we have had six Chancellors, two presidents of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and one president of the American Bar Association. I walk humbly in that parade of leadership that comes from Wolf Block. I would like to have all the people who are here from my firm stand and be thanked for the support they have given to me and to the entire legal community over so many years.
Last, and it may sound odd coming from me, but you know, they say that behind every great man is a great woman. With that in mind, I am very pleased to acknowledge my secretary, Dotty Masterson.
Those are the people who have been special in the life of one Philadelphia lawyer. But Philadelphia lawyers have been special to our life as a nation. Philadelphia lawyers have been instrumental over the years as our country has added new freedoms to our civic life and has extended these freedoms to more people.
This was true long ago, when Andrew Hamilton argued for truth as a defense in libel actions. And more recently when William Marutani risked his life to uphold the right to vote--and argued forcefully in the Supreme Court for the right of people to marry one another regardless of their race. That kind of courageous and creative advocacy continues among Philadelphia lawyers to this day.  
So, yes, we look back and are inspired by Philadelphia lawyers. But our profession must also move us forward. To move us forward in 2005 on some practical fronts, we will concentrate on some facts. In 2005, we will explain to policy makers and the general public something that is not as well understood as it should be: the significant positive impact of the legal profession on our economy. We are as important to the economy of this city and region as nearly any other industry or profession.
We are exporters for this city. When you have a case based in Chicago or are working on a transaction based in California -- or even in another country -- you are exporting for the benefit of this city. We used to export hats and steel from Philadelphia. But now, it is lawyers who export service, knowledge, professionalism, and problem solving for the benefit of Philadelphia.
But our ability to export is being tested. A primary example of this is the overlap of the business privilege tax and the net profits tax. The overlap means that there are two groups of people who get taxed twice: sole proprietors and partners in professional organizations. That's a drag on our profession and our ability to export. We will continue to work to overcome the double taxation system that slows economic growth and vitality.
In 2005 we will also work closely with our courts. The National Center for State Courts recently applauded the Trial Division of our Court of Common Pleas for the way it handles civil cases. The Center reported that our Common Pleas Court handles civil cases as quickly and effectively as any big city court in the United States. That is a big turnaround, and it is a product of collaboration between bench and bar.  
Our Commerce Program, which is part of it, is attracting large cases of nationwide scope. And, our Federal Courts also boast the shortest civil backlog of any big city federal courts in the country. This kind of success in our courts is something to crow about and build upon. We have every right to crow about our success, but we also have every obligation to do something about our courts when they can be made better. In Family Court, things can be made better.    
A couple of years ago, the Women's Law Project identified a number of problems in the way our Family Court works. Lack of security; lack of public access; lack of access to social services; the speed at which cases are handled, which is so fast that most of the people involved in those cases -- people without lawyers -- can't possibly understand what is happening to them and don't seem to be able to fully participate in a process that directly affects their own lives.
I have been conferring with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, our liaison justice to the First Judicial District. I think we agree that a new court building will solve many -- but not all -- of these major problems. Our Family Law Section is working with Justice Newman on the shape and location of this project. I promise you, this project will last longer than my year as Chancellor. But I can also promise you that we will work to be part of a successful effort to plan a new, modern, well run Family Court center in Philadelphia.
Of course, Family Court reminds us that we, as lawyers, have an obligation to make things better-- better in the justice system for sure,-- and-- when we can, better in other ways.
And we have some things we are going to do to make things better for a whole group of people: Newcomers who add to the vitality of our city. Immigrants.
I remember learning about Benjamin Franklin, the model Philadelphian, when I was a kid. When Franklin was a teenager, he stowed away on a boat with a dollar in his pocket and a loaf of bread under his arm so he could come to Philadelphia and fulfill the American dream. Why did he give up everything he had and come to Philadelphia? Because it was the fastest-growing city in the English-speaking world and the most dynamic city in the entire world. In Franklin's time, where we now sit was beyond the far western edge of the city. And the KOZ on the other side of the Schuylkill was a swamp. You had to take a boat to get to it.
Things have changed. And we have to think about the kind of growth and energy that attracted Franklin -- and that Franklin could add to when he came here.
Just as Franklin exemplified a time when newcomers made the city great, that kind of time has returned to us again. From 1980 till 2000 the country's population grew, but this city lost 10 percent of its population. It was a serious loss. But there was one bright spot: during the same period, the foreign-born population of our city nearly doubled, from about six percent to 11 percent.
I call this a bright spot because immigrants bring an incredible amount of faith, energy, confidence and investment to our communities. Thriving cities are filled with striving newcomers. Most all of the U.S. cities that have grown have grown because of immigrants.
If Philadelphia is going to grow -- and if our legal community is going to thrive by serving the people who make it grow -- Philadelphia is going to have to attract the best, brightest, most diverse and hardest-working people from beyond our fifty states. Immigrants. They were the key to the growth of our city during most of the twentieth century, and they are now the key to the growth of our city in the future.
Whole parts of West Philadelphia, Fishtown, the lower Northeast and the area around Washington Street are alive and vital because of the energy of immigrants. If you are a small practitioner in a neighborhood -- and about a third of our lawyers are small practitioners -- the people I am talking about are your next wave of clients. And I'm not simply talking about small businesses. Half of our engineers and scientists with advanced training are immigrants. A quarter of our technology and computer companies are founded or run by immigrants. So no matter the size of the business or the origin of the people in it, we have an opportunity to help these people improve our own future and theirs.
And here are a few ways to do it: First, language access to the justice system. In 2003, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee concluded that we need to provide access to the justice system for people with limited English proficiency. The Committee recommended that this Bar Association convene a task force and work with the city's courts to institutionalize and improve on the tremendous progress that Philadelphia has made in making interpreters available. Our courts are now a model for the rest of the state and the nation in this regard. We must share what we've learned and make more progress. 
Second, we need to open the doors to new young talent from all over the world-- including legal talent in our own law schools. Every year, more than a hundred and twenty foreign lawyers pass through the Temple and Penn law school LLM programs. They are lawyers from all over the world getting advanced degrees in American law.  Many of them have worked here in Philadelphia as paralegals. At least some of them have contacts here, and they want to stay in Philadelphia. But the rules of Bar Admission in Pennsylvania make it impossible for them to practice law here. So they go to other states to take the bar exam and practice law. This is but a small part of the Pennsylvania brain drain, and we must do our part to reverse it so we don't lose bright and energetic newcomers. Early in the year, we will ask our Supreme Court to change the rule -- consistent with ethics, professionalism and appropriate attorney discipline -- so that these lawyer/students can stay, so we can be on an equal footing with other states, and so we can be more tied to the international economy. 
Third, our Young Lawyers Division will lead the way in outreach to immigrant communities in 2005. An example. People's Law School. Every year, our Young Lawyers' Division sponsors a dozen or so courses about basic legal issues for nearly two hundred people who want to learn more about the legal system. We plan to teach People's Law School in Russian. Working with the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, we will teach People's Law School in Spanish. LegalLine. LegalLine provides free legal information and makes referrals to our LRIS program. Legal Line will now be available in Spanish. Similarly, our Real Property Section is finishing a project to make documents about basic real estate issues and use of the courts available in Spanish. 
Any individual lawyer can help in this kind of effort. Our own Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program gives support to hundreds of immigrants every year, including in its tax program. VIP, Nationalities Service Center and HIAS and Council Migration Services can place you with an asylum or immigration case.
If you are a transactional or business lawyer, VIP has a new program for you that is in its second year -- Law Works. Law Works connects the smallest of businesses and non-profit organizations with lawyers whose practices are transaction-oriented, and allows any of you who are business lawyers to have useful pro bono opportunities. In 2005 Law Works can help you to help budding entrepreneurs and non-profit groups in immigrant and other neighborhoods.
Finally, educational and trade exchanges. We will be working with the International Visitors Council and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, among others, to have our members meet delegations of lawyers, regulators and judges who come to our city from foreign countries. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us. And we can tell them about how effective our courts are. 
We will continue to send our own delegations and establish new dialogues with our counterparts and sister city bars in places such as France, Italy, and China.
In a shrinking world, your bar association's mission is growing.
In a world that is getting smaller, our outlook as a profession will be getting bigger.
These are some of the things we will do to promote immigrant opportunity and an international outlook.
Now, a lot of what I have talked about is sort of the nuts and bolts of adjusting the focus of our trade association to be in tune with new facts. Put another way, I have talked about social change. Adapting to it, and making the most of it.
Indulge me, please, if I talk about one more aspect of social change. There was a time -- in my lifetime -- in some states -- when a person who was gay or lesbian could not become a lawyer. That's because that person was deemed -- automatically -- under the rules -- not to be of good moral character.  
Today, I stand before you as the leader of the finest bar association in the world. That's social change. And this part of social change is important. There are still a lot of young people in this city and elsewhere who think they have no future-- if they are different. Let me tell you a short story about that.
On Law Day, in May, dozens of our own young lawyers go to Philadelphia's high schools. They discuss the role of law and lawyers in our society, and peaceful conflict resolution that law brings about. 
Last May, I did my Law Day service as a young lawyer-- or an honorary young lawyer anyway. I brought a group of lawyers to the Attic Youth Center. They were black, white, and Latino lawyers who are gay or lesbian. And we talked about law. Attic gives social services, counseling and academic help to gay, lesbian and transgendered youth in Philadelphia. Some of these kids are mistreated at home, because they are different. Then they are bullied at school, because they are different. And, as a result, they think they have no future, because they are different.
Because we are in an urban center, nearly all of the kids are minorities. And trust me, you don't know the troubles they've seen-- just because they are different. Last May, when they got to see that leaders of the bar-- even the Chancellor-Elect of an organization of 13,000 lawyers-- were one of their own, this sent a message. The message is:  "You have a place in our society-- even if you are different. You, too, can be part of things, even if you are different; and maybe you can even lead it, even if you are different."
So my thanks go to you for enabling us to deliver that message to a bunch of kids who are different. You have given me the chance to give those kids some hope. And hope is what it's all about. The hope and the promise of equal rights for all. The hope of a vibrant, diverse, prosperous, dynamic city. The dream of someone from anywhere in the world who still sees our great city as the cradle of liberty. 
New freedoms. New people to exercise them.
Those are the kinds of hopes and dreams that we are challenged to embrace and fulfill in 2005 and beyond.
I thank you all!
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