The Philadelphia Bar Association’s efforts to promote access to justice for indigent clients in civil matters took center stage in 2013, gaining traction at the state level.
Alongside the Allegheny County and Pennsylvania bar associations, the Philadelphia Bar Association formed the Civil Legal Justice Coalition in March to further statewide initiatives for the advancement of “civil Gideon”—the umbrella term that speaks to the right of representation regardless of ability to pay.
The coalition’s push for civil Gideon in Pennsylvania garnered backing from members of the legal community, academia and members of the state’s judiciary, including state Supreme Court Justice Max Baer and Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who serves as the organization’s honorary chair.
Castille, along with members of the bar’s Civil Gideon Task Force, testified during three statewide senate judiciary committee hearings this year to determine the viability and necessity of funding civil Gideon programs.
“We should start looking at the provisions for these legal services in the same way that we look at providing for other governmental services like the police department and criminal defense,” Castille told The Legal. “It ought to be a priority item because of the services it provides and the impact it has on the citizen.”
During the May 23 senate judiciary committee hearing held at Philadelphia Bar Association headquarters, bar association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson detailed the history of the association’s civil Gideon task force and the work it has done to promote civil Gideon and access to justice programs.
“The task force envisioned and developed the Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center, a court-based, independent collaborative project that was launched in January 2012 in conjunction with Municipal Court leadership, SeniorLAW Center, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Community Legal Services, and other key stakeholders and members of the task force,” Wilkinson said in her written testimony.
Wilkinson also noted that the bar association, via the task force, has built public awareness “of the problems faced by unrepresented individuals; and the economic and social benefits to the entire community that flow from providing free legal services to low-income people in areas of critical need. We have developed an online resource known as the Civil Gideon Corner, which contains information about the civil right to counsel movement and activities of our task force” located on the bar association’s website.
Additionally, Catherine C. Carr, executive director of Community Legal Services and co-chair of the task force, said in her written testimony that the need for civil Gideon is dire, as evidenced by the fact that CLS is working at peak capacity and has to turn one in two people in need of legal aid away.
“My program helps the poorest of the poor, that is people who have income below 125 percent of the federal poverty line. For one person that means they must have an annual income under $14,400,” Carr said.
Despite this strict income requirement, Carr noted, CLS has “too many people who would seek our assistance if we made ourselves very visible. We do not have enough staff to even meet and greet them all, say nothing of represent them in court or otherwise provide legal help.”
Carr concluded that helping the indigent in legal matters makes economic sense. Carr explained that based on a CLS study, every dollar spent on legal services brings in an $11 return in revenues and savings, including roughly $180 million of Medicaid and Social Security benefits.
Late this year the bar association released a study on the economic impact Philadelphia’s legal community has on the city. According to the bar association’s large law firm management committee, the legal industry in Philadelphia directly contributes $3.45 billion to the city’s economy, including $2.26 billion spent on employee compensation.
The $3.45 billion encompasses the revenue generated by all facets of the legal industry, including law firms, court reporting companies, e-discovery vendors, the legal components of corporations and law schools, according to Stephen Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions, the company that conducted the analysis.
The Philadelphia legal industry also directly employs 21,400 people who then put some of their salaries back into the community through everything from eating out to getting their dry cleaning done. When combining that spending with the money the legal industry spends on non-legal-related items ranging from copiers to toilet paper, the $3.45 billion increases to $4.91 billion in contributions to the city and a total of 31,400 jobs, the study found. That $4.91 billion generates $160 million in city tax revenue, the study reported.
“We wanted to focus on the impact that the legal community had on the greater Philadelphia economy,” said Dechert partner Ben Barnett, a co-chairman of the large law firm committee. “We looked to see that other sectors had similar studies; we wanted to have better dialogue with elected officials about how decisions could impact the legal community.”
This year also marked announcements in leadership changes for the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Mark A. Tarasiewicz, who is set to succeed retiring Philadelphia Bar Association Executive Director Kenneth Shear early next year, said he is optimistic about the future of the association as he prepares to take on the challenges of his new role, which will include involving more young lawyers in the bar association and maintaining the association’s prosperity in a difficult economic climate.
On Jan. 1, 2014, Tarasiewicz is set to take the day-to-day reins of the bar association after Shear ends his 37-year run as executive director Dec. 31.
“Ken has left an indelibly positive mark on the bar association. Under his leadership, we’ve grown, thrived and won regional, statewide and national recognition. Our bar remains a model for many other associations. So these are big shoes to fill,” Tarasiewicz told The Legal. “But I find challenges to be very exciting. I’m going to be listening carefully and soliciting views from all quarters. The bar association has a very bright future, and looking at our leadership now and on the horizon, we have a lot to look forward to.”
Additionally, in late 2013, the bar association announced William P. Fedullo as its new chancellor for 2014.
Fedullo, an attorney at Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo, delivered his inaugural address Dec. 10 before a crowd of attorneys, judges and elected officials gathered at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia.
During his address, Fedullo said that supporting the city’s school district and re-examining the bar’s judicial ratings system would be among his top priorities during his yearlong term.