The two men vying in the first contested election for leadership of the Philadelphia Bar Association in six years both are acutely aware that the metropolitan bar association is itself in a race for relevance to lawyers with many demands on their time.

Albert S. Dandridge III, chair of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’ securities practice group, and Joseph Prim, a workers’ compensation attorney in the two-man firm Duca and Prim, are the two candidates.

What’s the Relevance?

The bar association may not have great relevance for lawyers who have national or international practices, Prim said, but for lawyers with more local practices, the bar association provides invaluable opportunities for consortium with other legal colleagues and with judges.

The bar association, for more local practices, is the avenue for lawyers to debate issues that are important in the law and to lobby in the General Assembly to promote those issues, Prim said. The bar association also is important for the professionalism of lawyers so they are not just stuck in the office cranking out billables all the time, he said.

“It gives you the opportunity to mingle with other people that can promote the profession,” Prim said. “I don’t know that the bar association is less relevant than it was 20 years ago or 50 years ago or 100 years ago. People may have more things demanding their attention and their time.”

Prim also said the association must develop new streams of revenue. The issue, he said, has been discussed at the cabinet level for several months and Chancellor-elect Kathleen Wilkinson will be breaking new ground on the association’s financial viability in 2013 “that will have to be sown and tended and taken care of over the next several years. The world is changing. … You have to be flexible and adaptable as you go along.”

Dandridge said that when he was an associate a former chancellor of the bar association grabbed him and said, “‘Come with me,’ and I said, ‘Where am I going?’ and he said, ‘I’m taking you to a bar association event,’ and he said, ‘You need to go and I need to be involved.’”

That does not happen as much as it happened 15, 25 or 35 years ago, Dandridge said.

But the bar association is still very relevant to lawyers’ professional lives, even when working for a firm that has dozens of offices around the country or even the world, Dandridge said.

The bar association, Dandridge said, is important to the civility of the profession and for people to meet others, to “reach out beyond our silos … [to] meet and interact with people we may not ordinarily.”

The bar association must regain lost members, figure out ways to make more transparent its goods and services, increase its revenues, and ensure that the association accomplishes missions such as the advocacy of providing pro bono representation to people who otherwise can’t afford attorneys, Dandridge said.

Not Just Prim and Proper

It may be convenient that Prim likes to go to parties and take his wife of 20 years out for dinner and dancing because of the amount of social events that a chancellor is expected to attend.

Though Prim is in a small firm, he said he would be able to take on the responsibilities of the chancellorship, if elected, because he spends about half of his time on outside activities anyway, such as the bar association, his church and the Union League, and because he does use other attorneys on a per diem basis sometimes.

Prim has served a total of nine years on the board of governors and for the last four years he has been the association’s treasurer.

Prim has also been involved as a member of the association’s membership development committee. After being involved in the association for 20 years, Prim said he has the knowledge base to strengthen the association’s leadership on pro bono representation, equal access to justice and the independence of the judiciary.

While Prim said he had nothing negative to say about Dandridge, he said he has more experience in the bar association. “I’ve been told I have a lot of surplus energy, so I could bring that energy to bear,” Prim said.

While Prim has been practicing law for 42 years, he has concentrated solely on workers’ compensation for about 25 years. Prim represents plaintiffs and defendants, and for the last five years or so he also has been serving as an arbitrator or mediator in workers’ compensation disputes between third-party administrators and their clients or insurance companies and their clients.

He practices law in a “semi-circle” through York County, Easton in Northampton County and down through Philadelphia.

After Prim graduated from Boston University School of Law, he started working as the only associate for seven partners who each had a different practice, varying from personal injury, business law, labor law, probate and estates, representing unions, criminal defense and one partner who represented railroads on the charges made to freight cars running on their lines.

Prim, who now lives in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, said there was a lot of freedom growing up in South Philadelphia. He could just open the door and go out with “a thousand kids around to play.”

Expanding the Day and the Way

Dandridge first ran for vice chancellor in 2010, but he dropped out of the race when he developed prostate cancer that is now gone.

Dandridge is currently a member of the Civil Gideon Task Force, which is advocating for attorneys in civil cases involving fundamental aspects of life like custody disputes and housing. Dandridge was a member of the board of governors from 2000 to 2003 and served as chairman of the business law section in 2006.

Dandridge, who now lives in Chestnut Hill, was born and raised in West Philadelphia. When he was 18, his “best friend in the whole wide world” wanted to join the Marines and wanted Dandridge to go with him. After a coin flip that Dandridge lost, Dandridge served seven years in the Marines, including seeing combat in Vietnam.

“I believe that commitment as a young Marine, that never-say-die attitude, has held me in good stead in serving various organizations,” Dandridge said.

After serving in the military, Dandridge went to college and law school at Temple University. He “wanted to do deals, I wanted to do the kinds of things I read about in The Wall Street Journal,” so he earned a master’s of law degree in securities regulation at the University of Pennsylvania.

While commuting back and forth between his family in Philadelphia and the nation’s capital, Dandridge worked as a special counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of corporate finance because his professors said “that’s the post-graduate training for securities lawyers.”

Dandridge practiced at a firm from 1986 to 1995 before he went back to the SEC as the associate director in the division of corporate finance from 1995 to 1998. Dandridge became a partner in Schnader in 2000 after Schnader merged with his old firm. He was one of the lead negotiators when the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was sold to NASDAQ.

Dandridge also is the chief diversity officer at Schnader and one of the leaders of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group.

His youngest son of four was 7 years old when Dandridge’s first wife passed away from breast cancer, and Dandridge raised his children as a single parent before he remarried nine years ago.

Dandridge said he would take on the commitment to step back from his practice to lead the association.

“It’s called the expandable day,” he said.

Dandridge said that if he is elected to serve as chancellor, he will aim to focus on judicial independence, professional development, legal education and diversity in the legal profession.

The legal profession also needs to recognize its role in the changes in Philadelphia’s reinvention from a manufacturing town to a city full of medical institutions, higher education, tourism and cable giant Comcast, Dandridge said.

“We are not the … financial behemoth that New York is and we probably never will be,” Dandridge said. “We’re not the center of government as Washington, D.C., is … but we’ve done a good job of reinventing ourselves.”

Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or aelliott-engel@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.