Since the year I graduated from law school, nearly two decades ago, I have been a member of various bar associations, including the American Bar Association, Pennsylvania Bar Association and Philadelphia Bar Association, among others. In fact, my late father, Richard F. Furia, also an attorney, insisted on bar association participation, and my friend Michael Viola, a Philadelphia lawyer, encouraged me at an early stage to get involved in the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association. I can’t thank either of them enough.
I have learned so much as a result of participating in leadership roles in the Philadelphia Bar Association. This includes everything from creating and managing budgets to parliamentary procedure, resolution presentation and passing, advocacy skills, and relationship development. On a monthly basis, our board discusses and debates issues that affect lawyers and law firms, the practice of law, unrepresented individuals trying to navigate the legal system, professionalism, constitutional issues and so much more.
Over the years, I have observed chancellors who lead the bar with the long-term future in mind, such as Alan Feldman, who spearheaded the "Raising the Bar" campaign for the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and many others. I have also developed relationships that span the spectrum from friends, to mentors, colleagues, counselors and clients. This is a sentiment that is repeated over and over again.
Too often though, lawyers of all ages ask, "What’s in bar membership for me?" as opposed to, "What can I do for my bar association?" The "what’s in it for me" question is directly related to personal participation and engagement. If you join, become active and stay involved, the benefits are countless.
Abe Reich, co-chair of Fox Rothschild and past chancellor, said, "I had the opportunity to experience intellectual giants at the bar. I learned oratory skills as a young lawyer just by being a member of the bar. Then, in 1987, when given the opportunity to chair the professional guidance committee, we created a professional guidance hotline which has served thousands of lawyers since."
He said, "Each member of bar leadership makes a difference in his or her own way. This is a three-headed association: a trade association serving our members, a public service association providing access to legal services to the community, and a conduit to, voice for and watchdog of the court system."
It is ever apparent to me how relevant our association remains.
The Philadelphia Bar Association continues to serve the needs of the public interest community. The association continually serves the needs of the young lawyer’s community. The association remains relevant to the voters of Philadelphia by way of the Judicial Commission. And the association provides community, educational programs, advocacy for and benefits to the legal community.
For example, in 2011, during Rudy Garcia’s chancellorship, he led the association’s charge against the city of Philadelphia, challenging its lobbying law as too vague. Garcia, on behalf of the association, argued that "the regulations intrude upon the exclusive authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law." He explained that lobbying is so broadly defined by the ordinance that it includes many activities regularly conducted by lawyers when representing their clients in legal matters. That is particularly problematic, he said, because the regulations require disclosures that would violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers. The comments also point to the potential burden to smaller nonprofit organizations that, under the proposed regulation, would be subject to a $500 annual registration fee that must be paid by the organization as well as each of its "lobbyists." "Those funds will not be available to help the organization fulfill its charitable mission and the burden may stifle the organization’s ability to speak out on current community issues," Garcia said.
Such advocacy is a direct benefit to bar association members and non-members alike.
Most recently, Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson reinstated the law practice management committee in order to serve the business and management needs of law firms of all sizes in order to develop and deliver programming to help lawyers and law firm management to run their firms more efficiently and effectively.
Vice Chancellor Albert Dandridge said, "The bar association gives us the ability and tools to band together to better serve our community and our profession — that is our north star. The issues will continue to change. We can’t give lip service to diverse groups — we have to do our best to be welcoming and relevant. Our job is to collectively figure out and do the right thing even if we are not all things to all people."
Chancellor-Elect William Fedullo said, "The Philadelphia Bar Association makes the legal life a wonderful life." I couldn’t agree more. •
Gina Furia Rubel is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., an integrated marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal communications. A former Philadelphia trial attorney and active member of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s board of governors, she can be contacted at 215-340-0480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.