Francis X. O'Connor
Francis X. O’Connor ()

The incoming Pennsylvania Bar Association president said that in the coming year he plans to make the state bar a more vital part of both the legal and general communities.

Great Bend, Pa., general practitioner Francis X. O’Connor was set to take over the reins as president of the bar from Forest N. Myers at the annual meeting May 16. O’Connor said that within his first month heading the bar, he plans to expand the successful Wills for Heroes program, which provides free wills to first responders, police and firemen, to include veterans. He said he also plans to encourage more “seasoned” attorneys to provide pro bono legal work, or begin mentorning newer attorneys.

In addition to providing some much-needed services to the community, he also hopes the programs will be a way for attorneys to recognize the important work they do.

“It’s kind of a new twist,” O’Connor said. “At least in the small community I serve, lawyers are much more generous with their time than they’re given credit for. They’re constantly helping out folks, not even expecting a thank you, so let’s recognize what we do, and let’s not be afraid to talk about the good we do for people.”

Along with the new president, White and Williams attorney Wesley R. Payne IV was also expected to take over as at-large minority governor, and four new regional zone governors were also set to take office following the meeting.

Since opening his general practice in 1975, O’Connor has worked in many areas of the law, including bankruptcy, matrimonial, criminal and real estate work. O’Connor said he will be the first president to take over from serving as a general practitioner in a rural community.

“People come in the door and they need your help. If I don’t know [the area], I find someone else for them who does,” he said. “The object is to see that the needs of the people are attended to.”

Before becoming PBA president, O’Connor graduated from the University of Scranton and the St. Louis University Law School. He also served as a member of the PBA board of governors from 2008 to 2011, and as the Zone Five governor, representing lawyers in Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties, from 2003 through 2007.

During that time, O’Connor has seen the legal profession from the “grassroots right through” to sitting as a member of the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court, he said. O’Connor added that he hopes this experience will help him lead the PBA through a successful term.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see the broad stretch of what the association does,” O’Connor said.

Myers, a Franklin County attorney, will stay on at the PBA for the next year as the immediate past president working with O’Connor.

“I think Frank will do a great job,” Myers said. “He’s passionate about the PBA. He cares tremendously about its progress, and I look forward to working with him.”

According to Myers, the past year was largely a successful one for the bar. Along with chipping away at increasing membership, Myers said he was particularly glad that the bar was able to help push legislation through the state General Assembly prohibiting notary publics from advertizing themselves in Spanish-speaking communities as full-service lawyers, particularly regarding immigration matters.

“It was a travesty to the public,” Myers said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people were victimized and had no recourse.”

The creation of the shale energy law committee was also a major accomplishment for the bar, Myers said. The committee was established after an increasing number of attorneys came to the PBA looking for guidance on the increasingly prevalent issue, Myers said. In its first year, the committee has grown to more than 120 members.

One initiative that will remain a priority for the new PBA president will be increasing the number of attorneys who utilize the bar.

“We need to constantly let attorneys know the value the state bar has for them,” O’Connor said. “Wills for Heroes works with that and tells the public we’re not here necessarily just to go out and earn a living, but to show what we can do. Lawyers are always looking for places where they can showcase their talents, and our bar allows them to do that. It gives them a chance to go and move up ladders.”

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI. •