December 07, 2011
Inaugural Address of John E. Savoth, 85th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association
Thank you, Rudy for your kind words and for all you have done for the Philadelphia Bar Association – not just during the past year, but throughout your career.
Ladies and gentleman, Rudy Garcia's time at the Philadelphia Bar Association and his leadership are worthy of emulation. You have given us a rich model to follow Rudy – and we are all indebted to you, and we thank you.
And not only am I happy and proud to have been part of Rudy's team this year but I'm also honored and delighted to have soon-to-be Chancellor-Elect Kathleen Wilkinson and soon-to-be Vice-Chancellor Bill Fedullo as part of our team. I so look forward to working with both of them.
Now, I'd like to take a moment to pause and reflect a bit.
I am so proud to be here leading the oldest association of lawyers in America. As a boy from Neptune City, growing up along the North Jersey shore, within earshot of the soul of Asbury Park, it is an honor to be heir to the legacy of Andrew Hamilton.
This is all quite humbling. And I ask myself: "What was it that made the difference for me?" I've been fortunate, that's for sure.
But beyond that, the answer is obvious.
The answer is right here in this room.
It was People… People made the difference.
People like my parents who taught me the value of hard work, determination and perseverance. While our Dad worked the family business, our Mom, who lost her arm to cancer when I was 2 years old, ensured that our childhood was filled with the care, concern and love that enabled me to flourish. The point is, they didn't simply teach it – they lived it. It is because of you and Dad that I stand here today.
It was my brothers, whose love, support, and, yes, brotherhood, fortified and nurtured by our parents, continue to provide me with strength and pride everyday.
It was people like school teachers and college professors who helped to open my mind to a larger world – a world of places, events, ideas and aspirations.
People like my junior high school classmate who staggered me the first moment I saw her and I subtly suggested to her continuously over the years that I was a gentleman worthy of her affections (didn't quite put it like that). I finally succeeded and now my wife, Nancy, continues to challenge, encourage and strengthen me with her love and support.
And our three boys, Alex, Nate and Evan, who we are so proud of and who so enrich our lives.
And people like so many professional colleagues who have reached out to me, most notably Bill Keller, who generously and daringly guided me in my career as a Philadelphia lawyer.
And the late Justice James T. McDermott, who taught me that our profession does not operate in a vacuum and that the lessons of great literature are equally applicable to the human condition today as they were centuries ago.
And Bob Mongeluzzi, whose passionate and relentless pursuit of justice serves as a guiding light every day. In fact, all my colleagues at Saltz, Mongeluzzi, including Larry Bendesky, Michael Barrett and the Trial Lawyers they've brought together to practice this honorable profession.
So let's be sure of it: People make the difference.
Every single one of you: You are the Philadelphia Bar Association. You make this profession what it is and you are a vital determining factor in the life of this city, this region, and yes – even our world.
I know this is true. Because when I came to this city to practice law I barely knew one center-city street corner from another, let alone one neighborhood from another. I didn't have a clue. Pat's, Geno's, Jim's? And what about Dalessandro's?
But whatever awkwardness I felt at not having a Philly neighborhood or street corner to call my own quickly vanished.
Because Philadelphians are proud of their cherished roots, and so accepting of many who travel here to make a life. It's the rhythm, the soul, the love, the brotherly and sisterly love that embraces us. It's the feel, and dare I say, The Sound of Philadelphia.
You've welcomed me just as you have welcomed so many others. Including: Andrew Hamilton, Ben Franklin, John Coltrane, Chase Utley, Charisse Lillie, Richardson Dilworth, Justice Juanita Kidd Stout, Ed Rendell, Rich Negrin and Chief Justice Castille, just to name a few.
And that's part of the magic of this town and that magic is what has contributed to the vibrancy of center-city in recent years.
So many people (especially young folks) are here now, not simply because this is where they've always been but because they've clearly decided this is where they always want to be. They're here by choice.
And the best choice I ever made when I first arrived was to join the Philadelphia Bar Association.
That's how I met people. That's how I made connections. That's how I learned about this town and its unique culture. That's how I developed lasting, cherished friendships.
And yes, it helped my career. And yes, I was able to network and gain business from it. And these are no small matters.
But here's the important thing: The bar association enriches not just your work but your life. It makes your life more meaningful.
That's because all of our real, live members are right here. In fact, most of them are within a dozen blocks of this ballroom.
You know that. You understand it. You see it.
You need only to walk out of your office onto the pulse of Market or Walnut or Chestnut or Broad and your fellow Philadelphia Bar Association members are right there. Often they're on their way, if not from court, then to or from a committee or section event at bar headquarters or the education center or Jenkins law library or at an event at a nearby hotel or other facility. And hopefully, you're joining them.
Yes, the Bar Association is on Facebook and Twitter and we have an impressive web presence but this Association lives with you and your real, live interactions with your colleagues in this relatively intimate community.
I point this out because it's easy to forget it or take it for granted.
It's easy to become so well-connected one way that you're disconnected in more important ways.
It's easy to become so seemingly informed, that you're jaded; so absolutely certain, that you're cynical; and so busy, that you're actually bored and eventually burnt out.
But the people you meet and the things that you accomplish through Our Great Association will make a difference in your life.
I know. I've experienced it.
So now We must ask ourselves: How can We make a difference this year? Together, what can We do for ourselves and others?
I'd like to offer up three suggestions – three important initiatives – for the year.
In late October, we heard the incredible news. President Obama announced that America's war in Iraq is finally coming to an end. Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops will be home for the holidays. In addition, the president announced earlier this year that 33,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September of 2012.
For these military personnel and their families, resuming a normal, everyday life won't be easy. For many, it will be a constant struggle.
As Philadelphia lawyers, who are distinguished by our pro bono service, we have a duty – an inherited responsibility – to help ease their burden.
And so next year, we will launch a major volunteer recruitment initiative through our Military Assistance Program, which we've named "MAP."
We will help ease the burden of re-entry for our service men and women and their families. We will provide them with pro bono legal assistance in areas that impact their daily lives, including consumer credit, bankruptcy, employment, housing, family law, wills and estates, and special issues such as eligibility for veterans benefits and compensation for service-related disabilities.
Clients will contact MAP through a new hotline at the offices of the Bar Association. Callers will be matched with volunteer attorneys who have registered with MAP.
I have asked Michael Taub, Staff Attorney for the Homeless Advocacy Project, and Wes Payne, our assistant treasurer and a partner at White and Williams, to co-chair this important new initiative. Michael's knowledge in this area is rooted in his deep commitment to veterans' issues through HAP's Veteran's Project, a 10-year-old program that serves the complex legal needs of homeless veterans. Wes, a veteran himself, has worked tirelessly on veterans issues for years now.
I'm honored to have the support and guidance of Chief Justice Ron Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery to support our launch of this important endeavor.
Through MAP, we'll create opportunities for self-empowerment and sustainability for the hundreds of service men and women in the Philadelphia region who will soon be transitioning back to everyday life.
But our work next year on behalf of the community will not end there. It will also span our city's neighborhoods and extend to the youngest members of our community, who represent our future.
As we know, schools in Pennsylvania offer very little civics education. Most students spend only about two or three weeks reviewing civics in a U.S. history class.
In 2008, Chancellor Michael Pratt created our Association's Advancing Civics Education Program, or ACE.
This nationally recognized partnership with the School District of Philadelphia sends volunteer lawyers and judges into Philadelphia classrooms once a month to teach a curriculum of civics education that complements social studies programs.
More than 150 volunteer attorneys and judges have already participated in ACE, with 14 high schools and 2 elementary schools being touched by the program.
I am proud to announce that in 2012, we'll take ACE even further by expanding the program into even more elementary schools. Nine elementary school lessons have already been developed. To help us in this effort, we are launching an exciting new partnership with the National Constitution Center.
The Constitution Center's office of civics education will provide a new, enhanced level of administrative support for this rapidly growing program.
Our new partnership with the Constitution Center will enable us to increase our ranks of attorney and judicial volunteers, under the dedicated leadership of ACE Program Co-Chairs Jenimae Almquist and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge John Milton Younge.
ACE also has strong support from many judicial leaders, including Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Rendell, who has lent her boundless energy to the program by connecting us with the Constitution Center and helping to recruit talented volunteers.
Next year, we'll strengthen the program's curriculum, launch a new ACE website and plan teacher in-service days.
Engaging students in civics education at an even younger age will help motivate them in their reading and critical thinking during their formative years. They will also gain a deeper understanding of the true meaning of a democracy, the rule of law, dispute resolution and, simply, how to be a good citizen.
And speaking of our partnership with the National Constitution Center, many of you may be aware that in 2012 the Center will host a new exhibition, "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen" -- the first major retrospective about the American songwriter.
I have a feeling that I'm going to find this exhibit quite fascinating.
Bruce Springsteen inspires us by illuminating the struggles and triumphs of working Americans and the importance of social justice and free expression – the very freedoms on which the legacy of the "Philadelphia lawyer" was born.
The Constitution Center is generously providing free admission to this exciting new exhibition for every person at today's luncheon. Tickets will be distributed as you leave the ballroom today.
Of course our service to the community also transcends the borders of Philadelphia.
Programs such as our highly successful relationship with our sister bar association in Lyon, our seat at the table at the World City Bar Leaders Conferences, and the work of our International Law Committee and our new International Business Initiative Committee demonstrate that our Bar is doing its part to help stimulate new avenues of business in our region.
In the coming year, we'll continue to track global issues that impact our profession, including the eligibility of foreign-trained lawyers for admission to the Pennsylvania Bar, and provide input in the reconstituted Global Philadelphia Association.
Pro bono service and community volunteerism are more than just a professional commitment. They define us as Philadelphia lawyers. Public service strikes at the very heart of who we are as attorneys, and as citizens. And it has been the legacy of our Association for 210 years--- through the many law-related public service agencies that we support and/or helped to create; particularly the work of our Civil Gideon Task Force, which has toiled for several years now to formulate a workable plan to aid those in our society who are threatened with the loss of basic human needs, such as those involving shelter and child custody.
Our legacy also includes service to our members.
Attracting and retaining clients continues to be a challenging prospect for many of our members in this recovering economy. And so I am proud to introduce a new program to help members with their ongoing business development efforts.
Early next year, we will provide new premium advertising opportunities on the Philadelphia Bar Association's website, exclusively to members -- at a fraction of the cost of display ads placed on commercial websites and in printed publications.
We call this new program "Lawyer Profiles." Charter members will be able to upload full online profiles, with a photo and resume of their professional services. Only a limited number of these opportunities will be available through a monthly subscription fee.
This program adds instant value to your Association membership. You'll be able to proudly display your profile on the website of America's first bar association.
And speaking of these profiles, they only serve to remind us that each one of us is unique.
We each bring special talents, special viewpoints, distinct experiences and a unique set of skills to our jobs and to our lives.
And we owe it to ourselves and to this city and region to share all that we bring – not just with one another but with the larger community beyond.
That's what the profiles and the civics education program and the veterans' legal assistance effort are all about.
These are three vital areas where we can make a difference.
Today we are bigger than most state bar associations and we are looked to nationally as trailblazers. Many of our programs and efforts have served as models for similar initiatives throughout the nation.
We're justifiably proud of all that.
But even though our founders included this nation's first leaders, and even though we trace our origins all the way back to 1802 when a small group of lawyers met in Independence Hall to form a Law Library Company, we must never forget that we were founded by people who had common needs and shared a desire to help one another and those they served.
These first Philadelphia lawyers really weren't much different than you and I.
Yes, they faced different challenges and struggles than we do today, but they faced struggles nonetheless.
And they were – each and every one of them – distinct individuals.
But they recognized that they could accomplish a great deal more by joining together and learning and working to help themselves and others.
Today, our modern mission reminds us of our core principles:
-- To serve the profession and the public by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the rule of law, and
-- To ensure that all of our citizens, no matter their economic or social status, have full and unfettered access to our justice system.
Never has this mission been more important than now.
Never have these principles been more relevant.
We are the soul of this profession.
Unless we choose to get involved, to step outside our comfort zones, to act on behalf of a cause greater than ourselves, the prospect of adding richness and meaning to our work and our lives remains just that – a mere prospect.
During the depression years of the last century, John Steinbeck so eloquently detailed the dignity of the human condition, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
It's vital that we, as a community of talented, thoughtful thinkers, do not lose sight of this.
Today, the integrity of so many in our community is under constant assault and we have the talent, knowledge, work ethic and legacy of greatness to combat these problems and, hopefully, raise the hopes of those in need.
I am honored by this position and look forward to working for you in 2012.