New Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Jane Leslie Dalton: Pro Diversity, Pro Judiciary, Pro Business

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Please tell us something about your background and law firm practice.

Dalton: I attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School at an interesting time, entering in 1968, the first year that men did not get deferred from the draft for graduate studies. When I entered, the third year class had two women, the second year class had 8 women and our first year class had 22 women in classes of approximately 225. The number of women quadrupled when I was in law school. We were the beginning of law schools opening up to women; now women comprise almost fifty percent of law students. After my second year, I worked at Duane Morris for the summer, and joined the firm upon graduation in 1971. When I was hired, I was the first woman lawyer in the firm and I was pregnant. I was encouraged from the start by male colleagues who were starting their own families and careers. This kind of collegiality has flourished at the firm.

I was assigned to the Trial Department, headed by Henry T. Reath, who focused on large commercial cases involving antitrust, employment, and other complex issues. By 1974, following successful completion of an employment class action case, I began to focus my career on employment law and I became the first member of what would become the firm's Employment Group. I was named the first woman partner of the firm in 1978. Early in my career I had four children, so I developed multi-tasking before it had a name. I was keenly aware that I was representing future women lawyers in terms of the firm's view of women. I was fortunate that I had always known that I would work, so I was never torn between family and career.

As head of the Employment Litigation Practice within the Employment and Immigration Practice Group, I practice before trial and appellate courts and administrative agencies in the areas of employment discrimination and personnel management, unfair competition and constitutional litigation, including some highly controversial and highly publicized cases. I have defended law firms, educational institutions and businesses in individual and class actions in federal and state courts, defending various employment matters, including claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on age, race, sex, disability, religion and national origin.

Editor: How have you been involved with the Philadelphia Bar Association? In what Sections have you been active?

Dalton: When I was young litigator associate, Henry Reath, who was involved in the Philadelphia Bar Association, invited me to attend a Bench-Bar Conference. After the program, judges from the federal court of the Eastern District met with the lawyers. There were only three or four women in the room and the Chief Judge of the District Court invited me, among the many distinguished individuals, to sit at his table along with many senior partners from other firms. I recognized a good thing. I had a good experience then and I continued to be involved.

I remain interested in the Judiciary. Although the PBA has been pressing for merit selection of judges for years, they are still elected. I have been pleased to serve on the PBA Judicial Commission. Its investigatory teams review the candidate's application and interview lawyers, judges and others knowledgeable about the candidates. They not only interview people suggested by the judicial candidate, but also otheras who would have pertinent information. The team gives a report to the Judicial Commission. The Commission meets with the candidate, and then determines whether the candidate is recommended or not recommended. If a candidate does not go through this process, the candidate is automatically not recommended. The purpose is to assure that we have high quality candidates who are running for judge: individuals with sufficient legal ability, trial or other experience which ensures knowledge of the rules of evidence and courtroom procedures, a reputation for character and integrity, financial responsibility, judicial temperament, mental and physical stamina, a record of community involvement, administrative ability and devotion to improve of the quality of justice.

I also serve on the statewide Judicial Council, an advisory board created by statute to advise the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I served on a subcommittee chaired by Constantine Papadakis, the President of Drexel University which prepared the first-ever is Strategic Plan for all Pennsylvania Courts, which was ultimately submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Approximately twenty people serve on this council, each serving for a three-year term or until a successor is appointed. Members are given specific tasks and the whole group meets once a year with the Chief Justice and two other justices of the Supreme Court.

Editor: What are your goals for your term of office as Chancellor?

Dalton: First, because we have judicial elections coming up this year, the Judicial Commission will be very active and I see our role as a bar association in educating the public and protecting judges from unfair attacks, as the elections near. We will vigorously state that we want fair and impartial judges who decide cases by the rule of law. Second, I want the Philadelphia Bar Association to be even more engaged with young lawyers, particularly women and minority lawyers, to make them feel that they have a stake in the profession and that they have our support. Third, I'd like to see our Philadelphia Bar Association become perceived as, as well as being, an instrument to attract and retain businesses in the Philadelphia region. To that end, we will continue to press for tax reform. This year, we also plan to have a Business 101 seminar for emerging businesses, so that lawyers are perceived as being helpful to the business community. We want for example, to offer ten tips on how to help businesses particularly in the second through fourth year of operation, to be aware of the legal environment in which they operate, to beware of pitfalls, and to know where and when to turn for legal advice. We may partner with local law schools, universities and the Science Center to give a course on Intellectual Property 101, which would be helpful to startup tech companies.

Editor: What role does the Philadelphia Bar Association play within the larger Philadelphia community? Does the chancellor have a role in educating the public about legal happenings?

Dalton: Philadelphia is a sophisticated educational center; we have a goal of keeping more of the brightest graduates in Philadelphia in our professions and in business.

Recently, I have been heard on the radio about once a week as a guest on talk shows, to speak about current events in the legal sphere. Occasionally, there are television opportunities.

One project that is working well is Legal Line: a monthly call-in telephone opportunity conducted in English and Spanish in which a panel of volunteer attorneys field questions from members of the public. The panel will give answers directly or refer callers to other lawyers in our lawyer referral service. This has been quite successful but needs further publicity.

Editor: Are you committed to diversity within the profession?

Dalton: Yes, definitely. I have asked our Minorities in the Profession Committee to contact every new member who is a minority and to reach out to the minority bars in the area, so that we can have inter-related programs and encourage their participation in our programs. I have asked our Women in the Profession Committee to reach out to each new woman member. For our in-house counsel members, we will have a panel with corporate diversity officers from large companies talking about best practices to mid- and smaller-sized companies and firms to give their managers the tools to develop and maintain effective diversity policies.

Our Young Lawyers Division has a Scholarship program that goes to six local law students. They particularly look to partner with the minority bars to pick students who are diverse. They also present programs at each of the law schools to encourage the students who are there to stay in Philadelphia, to avoid the "brain drain."

Editor: Please give us an update on the Commerce Court and Case Management System.

Dalton: When I started practicing law, Philadelphia was a place where you didn't want to litigate, because you had no idea when your case was going to come to trial. There were cases that took ten years. Since the establishment of the Commerce Court and the Case Management System, the Philadelphia system has become a model for courts around the nation and is seen as a positive aspect for businesses in the area. The judges do not race the cases through, but they move cases through, usually in the course of two years. Businesses look at this as a positive: the Commerce Court looks at business issues thoroughly and fairly, and businesses feel that they will get a fair trial.

Editor: Is the Philadelphia Bar Association still connected with the Constitution Center?

Dalton: The Philadelphia Bar Association was a founder of the Constitution Center, we contributed to its construction and we remain committed to its programs and success. In response to requests, we send speakers on specific topics. We send a representative to important educational or celebratory events. It is a great privilege for our representatives to have participated in many naturalization ceremonies there.

Editor: Has the PBA made progress in increasing the participation of in-house counsel in its committees and projects?

Dalton: Periodically, we meet with members of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (DELVACCA), to discuss issues of mutual interest, focusing on ways of maintaining and improving the business climate in the greater Philadelphia area. A number of members who are officers in DELVACCA are active in programs here. When I was co-chair of our Business Section's new Human Resources Committee, we began to address business counseling issues, which many DELVACCA members found to be quite helpful.

Editor: Anything you'd like to add?

Dalton: More in-house counsel recognize the advantages of belonging to bar associations. Among the most tangible benefits are vibrant programs in areas including tax, real property, securities, etc. Our Business Law Section produces sophisticated programs which smaller bars do not offer. Among our membership of 13,000 are approximately 4,000 members who work in the suburbs and benefit from PBA education and networking opportunities. Sometimes, lawyers in small corporate legal departments really want to talk about legal issues with attorneys in their specialty, outside of their company.

We have set up a program this year, where lawyers who take pro bono cases, can get assistance in legal research or in working the case up from of one or two students to introduce the students to working with legal professionals and to the importance of pro bono work, and to introduce young lawyers-to-be to the excitement of practicing law in Philadelphia.

Please email the interviewee at dalton@duanemorris.com with questions about this interview.