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It was a delight for me to attend The Community Legal Services’ Breakfast of Champions on Wednesday, April 28, at The Bellevue. Hosted every year through the gracious support of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers, this is CLS’ one fund-raising event of the year.

It celebrates not only the Herculean efforts made by CLS’ staff – which U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah called “the best advocacy group in the nation” – but the incredible contributions made by a select few whom CLS honors with awards each year.

Believe it or not, this is the 20th year that law firms have been asked to preserve, protect and defend Community Legal Services.

The first law firm campaign was announced in the conference room of Dechert in April 1984. Back then, we established giving goals: $10,000 for large firms, $5,000 for midsize firms and $1,000 for small firms. With Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll again taking the lead this year with a gift of $35,000, you would expect that the annual campaign is breaking new records.

But despite record profits per partner and generally very healthy paychecks, our firms continue to cut checks that, while important, are actually quite modest, and the campaign has remained stalled for years.

I made my gift, $5,000 – what was, 20 years ago, a reasonable gift to expect a successful plaintiffs’ or midsize law firm to make. While I hope other individuals will follow my lead, I made this gift to challenge (well, shame) every law firm – plaintiffs’ as well as insurance defense, as well as corporate, small as well as large – into taking a serious look at how much it is contributing per partner – or even per attorney – and make a fresh commitment to ensure that the doors of our halls of justice remain truly open to everyone in our city.

Equal justice for all. It’s not someone else’s job. It’s ours. It’s personal. It’s time to do the right thing: Check what your firm has been doing, and make sure it writes the check.

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