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Law firms have been slower to commit during the second year of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Raising the Bar fundraising campaign on behalf of public interest legal groups. But the campaign’s organizers expect that they will come close to matching last year’s pledges of 133 firms by Jan. 1. For a list of firms that joined the 2006 Raising the Bar campaign but have not yet rejoined for 2007, click here. For a full list of participating firms, click here. In mid-October, only 87 firms had made the commitment to contribute at least $300 per each of their attorneys toward public interest law firms, while 118 firms had signed up by mid-October 2006. In July 2006, 90 firms had signed on, but at the same time this year only 69 firms had renewed their pledges. But between Oct. 22 and the end of November, the fundraising wing of the bar association, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, saw the commitment by firms jump by 17 to 107 participating firms. By Nov. 10, 2006, 128 firms had committed. Alan Feldman, of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner & Weinstock and one of the campaign’s 2007 co-chairs, and Maureen Mingey, the executive director of the bar foundation, had hoped that the campaign would result in even more law firms committing to the campaign than in 2006. But they were pleased that the campaign appears on track to at least match last year’s level. “We’re still trying to establish this campaign, the Raising the Bar campaign, as an integral part of the Philadelphia legal community’s obligations in supporting legal services,” Feldman said last week. “I understand that will not happen overnight. I wish it would. “I would have dearly loved to have significantly more contributions. On the other hand, many, many firms that struggled with the decision to join the campaign last year did join last year and came back this year.” “We always want to do better than we did before. We definitely wanted to do as well as last year,” Mingey said. Last year, the campaign raised about $1.5 million. The program was founded by Feldman during his 2006 tenure as bar association chancellor to raise the Philadelphia bar’s monetary commitment to public legal service organizations to the level of giving by the legal communities in New York and Boston. Feldman’s aim also was to institutionalize public interest legal support so that Raising the Bar donations become just as important in firms’ budgets as paying rent or paying staff salaries. “If we don’t help citizens in need of legal services for their housing, their health, for their children, to protect themselves from abuse, who will?” Feldman asked in an interview earlier this year. “That’s our calling. That’s one of our first principles to make sure everyone has the protection of the law.” Feldman, co-chairing the campaign along with Grant Palmer of Blank Rome, said in October that he and Palmer had found more reluctance in 2007 for firms to participate at the requested level. But Feldman did not want to cast a pall over the campaign’s progress because more firms were committing to the campaign during the fall than they had earlier this year. “I don’t want to overemphasize the problems we’ve run into,” he said. He said it was important that the campaign has successfully gained the commitment of most of the top-25 firms in Philadelphia because the critical mass of attorneys in the city are employed by those firms. The campaign has had success in garnering donation commitments among the 32 largest firms in Philadelphia. Of Philadelphia’s prominent firms, only seven have not decided yet or have decided against participating in the campaign: Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers, Rawle & Henderson, Swartz Campbell, Spector Gadon & Rosen, Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg and Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby. Robert Whitelaw, the manager partner of Obermayer Rebmann, said in an interview Thanksgiving week that his firm had not yet discussed the campaign and not yet made a decision about participating. Calls made to the rest of Philadelphia’s large firms over their participation in the campaign were not returned. While hopes were high that the campaign would grow in leaps and bounds, Feldman said that the campaign would have to be content with incremental growth in giving. “I’m a bit disappointed that some law firms that were part of the campaign last year have chosen not to participate this year. And I’m disappointed that a number of firms that I think are enjoying a healthy year financially have not participated either,” Feldman said. “On the other hand, I recognize that this is only the second year of a campaign that really truly attempted to change the culture of giving in Philadelphia.” Feldman and Mingey said the goal is for every lawyer practicing in Philadelphia, whether a solo practitioner or a big firm attorney, to be represented in the campaign. Law firms can commit to the Raising the Bar campaign by giving directly to the bar foundation’s general grant fund. Firms can give their donations to the bar foundation with directions on what organizations it should be divided among. Firms also give directly to public interest law organizations and report those donations to the bar foundation. Several public interest legal groups said the 2006 Raising the Bar campaign resulted in five to 10 more firms donating to them. “We have seen an increase,” said Karen Buck, executive director of Senior LAW Center. “We think it’s been an additional and wonderful incentive for law firms to give to vulnerable communities.” Buck estimated that law firm donations make up 10 percent of her organization’s budget. They have 9,000 senior citizen clients each year. Catherine Carr, executive director of Community Legal Services, which serves 20,000 clients a year, said law firm donations make up about 5 percent of her organization’s budget. Law firm donations are important because there are no restrictions on how her organization uses the money and it can be applied to new services CLS wants to start up, Carr said. Buck, Carr, Jennifer R. Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that they all have their own fundraising efforts but they are grateful for the additional efforts by the bar association to increase their donations. The bar association has expanded their donor base and has helped institutionalize giving by Philadelphia firms, they said. “It’s so much easier to call up firms and say, ‘Hey, you can reach your Raising the Bar challenge by giving to us.’ . . . It did result in new law firms contributing to us,” Clarke said. The center handled 40 cases last year, half of which were class action cases. “It’s become thankfully a matter of habit to make charitable contributions to law-related organizations,” Cervone said. “And that was Alan Feldman’s vision when he created this: that it wouldn’t be one shot, one year and gone. But that indeed the bar of regular giving would be set higher.” Child Advocates represented 796 children – an all-time high – last year. Donations make up 10 percent of the Advocates $2 million budget, Cervone said. Feldman hopes that the Raising the Bar campaign will retain the active support of the bar association’s and the bar foundation’s leaders. He does not believe the campaign will maintain the commitment of law firms or gain the commitment of other firms if bar leaders do not put fervent support behind fundraising for public interest legal services. At least for next year, the support will be present from A. Michael Pratt, the incoming chancellor of the bar association for 2008. Pratt said that one of his tenure’s goals would be to continue Feldman’s efforts for increased support for public interest legal organizations. “I am going to be using Alan Feldman’s Raising the Bar campaign as a model to try to continue get more substantial financial support for legal services organizations,” Pratt said.

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