The Goals Of The New Chancellor Of The Philadelphia Bar Association Are Many And Diverse

Monday, January 31, 2011 - 01:00

The Editor interviews the New Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Rudolph Garcia .

Editor: Congratulations on your new position as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. Please tell our readers about your background and your current practice.

Garcia: Thank you. I was born in Philadelphia and have lived in this area for most of my life. When I graduated from Temple Law, I went to work at a small firm, where I got a lot of trial experience in a very short time. About a year later, the firm split up. I moved to Saul Ewing, became a partner and stayed there for 27 years. In October 2005, I moved to Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney with a group of my trial department colleagues from Saul Ewing. My current practice is litigating large commercial disputes of various kinds, including many jury trials in federal and state courts in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Editor: How did you come to be involved with the Philadelphia Bar Association?

Garcia: It was a gradual process. One of the lawyers I had worked with brought me to some meetings of the State Civil Rules Committee. I learned how valuable that was, and I got to know the judges in an informal setting. I began to have input into how the system was run. For example, I led a project to update and recodify all the Philadelphia Civil Rules, which were then adopted by the board of judges.

Next, I was asked to chair the full committee and then to chair the Federal Courts Committee and then the State Civil Litigation Section. Then, I was elected to the Board of Governors. Then I was asked to represent the Philadelphia bar as a delegate to the American Bar Association. Over the years, I kept getting more and more involved, and I've enjoyed it very much. I've met a lot of really great people that I wouldn't have met otherwise.

Editor: What do you plan to emphasize during this coming year?

Garcia: One major project is enhancing the value of membership in our bar. We can't take our members for granted in this economic climate. In the first quarter of this year we're offering an innovative legal research service called Fastcase. Every firm whose Philadelphia lawyers are all members will have online access to Pennsylvania state and federal cases, statutes and rules at no cost. In addition, a full nationwide database will be available at a substantial discount. This will reduce the cost of legal research for our members and their clients, and it will be an enticement for lawyers to remain members or join our bar.

We are also forming a new Long-Range Advisory Council to ensure that our long-term objectives are considered as we press forward with our shorter-term goals.

We will also be making some meaningful progress on diversity. At our first Quarterly Meeting on March 11, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor will join us to receive our Chancellor's Diversity Award, which we will then rename in her honor. This renaming will add substantial prestige to the award and increase its incentive for people to focus on diversity.

We're also restructuring our existing Minorities in the Profession Committee to become a forum for collaboration with and among the various minority bar associations in town. This will allow them to work together on their common goals, share ideas, and develop best practices under the umbrella of our bar. The committee will be chaired by our diversity chair, Scott Reid, a partner at Cozen O'Conner, and supported by our new director of diversity, Naomi McLaurin, who came to us from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. We are also going to be working with our many sections and committees to promote diversity throughout the entire organization. We will be reaching out to law firms and law departments to offer help with their diversity efforts.

We are starting a new Philadelphia Bar Leadership Institute to provide training and guidance to all our committee and section chairs on ways to improve their leadership skills, expand active participation and plan even more dynamic programs for their members.

Editor: Are there long-term goals of your predecessors that you will continue to address?

Garcia: Yes. Perhaps the best achievement of Scott Cooper, our immediate past chancellor, was the creation of the Historical Society. We're the oldest association of lawyers in the United States. We have a long and fascinating history, and we have started to preserve it. We've recorded high definition videos of the living past chancellors, and we've started collecting other information and documents. We're going to continue that and also launch a new website to present it in the context of an interactive timeline.

We will continue working to establish a meaningful right to counsel in civil cases where basic human needs are at stake, such as loss of shelter or child custody. Gideon v. Wainwright held that a defendant is entitled to a lawyer in criminal cases, but some civil cases are just as important. We think people should have a right to counsel in those cases as well. This concept has become known as Civil Gideon.

We will also continue the work of the Philadelphia Bar Association Academy, which provides civic and cultural experiences to create new connections with the city's businesses, institutions and leaders. It's been a big success, and every one of its events has sold out in a day or two. It has also attracted some members who haven't been active before.

Editor: What sets the Philadelphia Bar Association apart from other legal member organizations? How can membership in the Philadelphia Bar Association enhance one's legal career?

Garcia: We provide the opportunity for everyone to get integrated into the Philadelphia legal community and network with others in ways that improve their skills, build their practices and establish lasting new friendships. We have active sections and committees in every conceivable practice area. When you participate in these groups, you attend great programs and see what's developing before it even develops. You also get to know the lawyers and the judges or regulators who handle the same kinds of matters that you do. So when you see them in your practice, they're not strangers. You have established some credibility with them.

We also speak for Philadelphia lawyers on issues affecting the profession in state government, local government, the ABA and even in some international organizations. We have lots of great publications, such as The Philadelphia Lawyer, the Bar Association's quarterly magazine, and The Philadelphia Bar Reporter , its monthly newspaper, as well as a variety of online publications, a great website featuring podcasts and listserves, and an established social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and several blogs. We have state and federal bench-bar conferences, a robust Young Lawyers Division with a range of programming, section events, and Chancellor's Forums, where guest speakers visit our association's headquarters to discuss important topical issues.

We also support more then 30 public interest organizations through the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and the Delivery of Legal Services Committee. Our public interest chair, Professor Louis Rulli at the University of Pennsylvania Law School is involved in all our public interest activities including the Civil Gideon Task Force and the Delivery of Legal Services Committee.

We also screen judicial candidates through our Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention. In fact, in the last judicial election, in 2009, the Philadelphia Inquirer said no one should vote for any judicial candidate that the Philadelphia Bar Association didn't recommend, which was a pretty good endorsement of our screening process.

Editor: What progress has the bar association made in its efforts to address the needs of in-house counsel?

Garcia: The short answer is not enough. We're going to reactivate our corporate in-house counsel committee this year, and we welcome any suggestions from the in-house counsel community. We do have some active members in corporate law departments but not as many as we would like. We would like this part of our profession to get more involved and help us chart a course that would better address their concerns.

Editor: The Commerce Court and the Case Management System are a model of the Philadelphia Bar responding to the needs of the business community by providing a specialized business disputes court and by reducing the amount of time to go to trial to less than two years. Are there other innovations that the bar association is working on to enhance the reputation of Philadelphia as a business-friendly city?

Garcia: We just helped the court design and implement a civil e-filing system which I personally worked on. It has improved efficiency, cut costs and made the process a lot more convenient for lawyers. That is helping not only the business community but everybody who uses the court system.

We've also worked with the court to establish and implement the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, which has helped lenders cut their losses and saved about 3,000 homes from foreclosure so far. We're working on a similar program for lease evictions with landlords and tenants. We're working with Mayor Michael Nutter on issues affecting the profession and with city council on the current debate about the city's tax structure. We intend to work with both the city and the business community to try to advance our common goals.

Editor: Unfortunately many qualified and experienced attorneys as well as new attorneys are in transition or are underemployed. How can the bar association help them?

Garcia: We're going to keep providing the Lawyers in Transition programming that we started a couple of years ago to offer these attorneys networking opportunities and practical guidance. For example, through our Law Practice Management Committee, we provide information on starting and running a solo firm.

We're also going to do something new this year. We're going to launch a Legal Classifieds section on our website, philadelphiabar.org, to help connect lawyers and firms for jobs and office space. I previously mentioned Fastcase, our new free legal research service, which will also help them in their practice as well as reduce expenses in this difficult economy.

Editor: What do you think your greatest challenges will be in the coming year?

Garcia: One of the toughest challenges is going to be helping the laid-off lawyers and new graduates find jobs. Our Lawyers in Transition program and our Legal Classifieds section will help somewhat, but we need to improve the business climate. One part of that will be trying to get the city to address the tax situation that is driving businesses away. We're also going to help promote Philadelphia as a great place to live and work.

Another challenge is retaining members and recruiting new ones in this economy. Bar associations throughout the country are losing members. Fortunately, we're doing much better than the ABA and most other bars, but we need to stay ahead of the curve. I've formed a Membership Task Force that is working on ways to enhance the value of membership in our association. That is where the Fastcase and the Legal Classifieds section will be handled, and we're looking for additional ideas as well.

The bottom line is, we need to keep earning our members' loyalty every day.

Please email the interviewee at chancellor@philabar.org with questions about this interview.