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December 07, 2010

The Inaugural Address of Rudolph Garcia, 84th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association

Rudolph Garcia Good afternoon everyone, and congratulations to all the award recipients.

It's such an unbelievable honor to be standing here as the incoming chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Since at least 1735, when Andrew Hamilton won the landmark libel case that formed the foundation for "freedom of the press," Philadelphia Lawyers have been at the cutting edge of law and the forefront of public service.

Our bar is the oldest association of lawyers in the United States. We were formed decades before the ABA and all of the other state and local bar associations in this country. And throughout the changing times, we have continued to grow and thrive.

Today, we are one of the largest and most respected metropolitan bars in the world.

For more than two centuries, we have promoted justice, professional excellence and respect for the rule of law.
So, leading this great organization is more than just a privilege, it's an enormous honor.

When I was growing up, I never dreamed that I would one day be a Philadelphia Lawyer, let alone the chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar.
I certainly didn't get here on the traditional path. No one in my family went to college. When I graduated from high school, I struck out on my own.

At one point, I hitchhiked across the country with nothing but the clothes on my back and ten dollars in my pocket. At that time, I had no home and no material possessions. But, I had the freedom to travel at will, and I learned a lot about life along the way. That was a very liberating experience. And knowing that I could survive, and be happy with virtually nothing, gave me the self-confidence that has helped make me who I am today.

After a while, I got a job in Utah, bought a motorcycle and rode it back across the country to visit my friends and family. When I arrived, I saw Pennsylvania with new eyes and realized that this is where I really wanted to stay.

I paid my own way through college and law school by working three days a week at various odd jobs. I managed to do well in school, while juggling part-time work, classes, law review and service as president of the Moot Court. Hard work, self-reliance and efficiency were necessities, so they became a part of my nature and also helped make me who I am today.

When I graduated, I went to work at a small firm, where I got a lot of trial experience in a hurry. About a year later, that firm split up, and I moved to Saul Ewing where I grew up as a lawyer, became a partner and stayed for 27 years. Then in October 2005, I moved to Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney with a group of my trial department colleagues.

Buchanan welcomed me and has supported my continuing bar service, even during recent years when most firms were cutting back on everything they could. That says a lot about Buchanan's commitment to Philadelphia and our legal community. I'd like to thank my firm for that dedication and support.

Yes, Buchanan was founded elsewhere and has offices throughout the country, but we have about 80 lawyers in Philadelphia now and we're working on expanding here to become a much bigger part of this great city.

Our CEO, Jack Barber, is with us here today. In addition to running our firm, Jack is chairing Governor-Elect Corbett's transition team, yet he still took the time to travel here from Pittsburgh for this event. Doug Coopersmith and Howard Scher are also with us today. Doug is our Chief Development Officer and Howard is the managing Shareholder of our Philadelphia office. And Jack Stover has joined us here from Harrisburg. Jack is one of the co-chairs of our Litigation Section. All in all, more than twenty of my Buchanan colleagues are here today. Please join me in thanking all of them for carrying an extra share of the load next year while I spend most of my time leading the bar.

And, of course, I couldn't do any of this without the support and understanding of my wife, Randi. We've been married for over 30 years and I can't imagine life without Randi by my side. And I'm especially pleased that our son Jon came down from New York to join us here today. Jon is an NYU grad and a talented musician who's writing songs and performing in NY and on tours throughout this country and Canada. Thanks also to Randi's mother, sister and aunt for attending this event.

Unfortunately, neither of my parents have lived to see this day, but I'm sure that both of them would be beaming with pride if they had.

No one can be an effective leader without a lot of help from a lot of other people. I am truly blessed with great support at home and at my firm.

And I'm also fortunate to work with a great team of bar association leaders, including our current Chancellor, Scott Cooper, who's done such an amazing job this year. And I'm also looking forward to great things from our Vice Chancellor, John Savoth and our next Vice Chancellor, Kathleen Wilkinson. All of the other officers and members of the Board of Governors will also be an essential part of our team next year, so please join me in thanking them for their service as well.

Now, I'm sure you're all wondering what we will be doing next year.

Long-Range Advisory Council

Every incoming chancellor comes to this podium with new goals and initiatives for the coming year. Everyone wants to create a lasting legacy, and I'm no exception. That's part of what keeps us moving forward and why we've remained on the cutting edge.

But we also need to take advantage of long-term opportunities and deal effectively with long-term challenges. That can be difficult when we look at things one year at a time. We need to take a longer view and plan for our future.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, failing to plan is like planning to fail. So I am forming a Long-Range Advisory Council, to focus continuously on our long-term goals.

This could include issues like whether we should buy our own bar building, whether we should commit to host national and international conferences in future years, and anything else that wouldn't fit within a one-year agenda. The Council will include both current leaders and highly-regarded former leaders of our bar, such as former Chancellors and Chairs of the Board. Its role will be advisory only, but it will ensure that our long-term objectives are considered as we press forward with our shorter term goals. Please join me in thanking Frank Devine for agreeing to chair the Council next year and all the other members who have agreed to help shape our future.

Membership Task Force

Now, of course, there's no point in planning our future if we don't also ensure our viability and strength in the present.

Bar associations throughout this country are losing members in this challenging economy. We are retaining a much higher percentage than the ABA and most other bars, but we can't take our members for granted. We need to earn their loyalty, and attract new members, by enhancing the value of membership in our association. Accordingly, I have formed a Membership Task Force that is already working on ways to save our members more than they spend in dues. We have two such projects scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

Legal Classifieds

One is a new section of our website where members will be able to post notices for jobs, office space and the like at a fraction of the cost currently paid for classified ads in leading publications and online services.

This is the least we can do for all the lawyers who are struggling to find work in this extraordinarily difficult job market. And it will also help firms by reducing their spending on ads.


More importantly, we are also going to provide free access to an innovative legal research service called Fastcase.

Thanks to the Internet, Fastcase has been able to build its database much less expensively than its more traditional competition. For that reason, and because we have so many members, we were able to negotiate a price per member that the association can fully absorb. That will give members online access to Pennsylvania state and federal cases, statutes and rules without paying anything at all for that service. In addition, the full nationwide database will be available at a substantial discount.

The only catch is that this will only be available to firms who enroll all of their Philadelphia lawyers in our bar. Many firms already do, so their access will be automatic. Those that don't will need to sign up the rest of their lawyers. That increase in membership will help us pay for this new service.

If the largest 25 firms in town use Fastcase for as little as 30 percent of the research that they can't charge to clients, they will save an average of $35,000 per year, net of the additional dues paid for the lawyers who aren't yet members. They can also reduce the cost for clients who do pay for legal research charges. And Fastcase will be all that many sole practitioners and small firms need, so they could cut their research costs to zero.

And Fastcase has features that the more established services don't offer. For example, in addition to the usual list of cases found, Fastcase can also display an interactive map of your search results, so you see the most important cases at a glance. And searching Fastcase is like searching in Google. Anyone can do it.

This will be a substantial new member benefit.

And we are just getting started. Please join me in thanking Matt Perks and Jackie Segal for co-chairing the task force and all the other members for helping us enhance the economic value of membership in our association.


As we dedicate ourselves to strengthening the bar in both the future and the present, we will also continue our efforts to become more inclusive and welcoming to all segments of our profession.

Thanks to the great work this year by Scott Cooper and Scott Reid, we now have an exceptional new Director of Diversity. If you haven't met Naomi McLaurin yet, please seek her out. You'll be glad you did.

I will be working closely with Naomi next year on some important new diversity initiatives.

Minorities in the Profession Committee

First, we are going to convert our Minorities in the Profession Committee into a forum for collaboration with and among the various minority bars.

It will be a place where they can work together on common goals, share ideas and develop best practices, with the full support of our bar.

It will be chaired by Scott Reid, who has agreed to continue on for another year as our Cabinet-level Diversity Chair. The heads of the various minority bar associations will be invited to serve as ex-officio members. And our Director of Diversity will provide her invaluable guidance and support.

Diversity Award

And here's the really big news:

At our first quarterly meeting, we will present our Chancellor's Diversity Award to United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Throughout her entire career, Justice Sotomayor has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity and equal justice for all Americans. As the first Hispanic-American Justice, nominated by the first African-American President, she embodies the ideals of diversity and shines like a beacon of hope for others in our profession. So we will also rename the award in her honor as the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award. That will add immeasurably to the prestige of the award and the incentive it will provide to make real progress throughout our legal community.

In addition to accepting the award, Justice Sotomayor will engage in an open discussion with our audience. Please mark you calendars for March 11, 2011. Our meeting on that date is one that you won't want to miss.

Public Interest

And of course, we will also continue to support our public interest community next year.

Among other things, I'd like to do more to spread the word about all the good work that our volunteers and public interest organizations do for Philadelphia's most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. That will help us attract more lawyers to public service and will also improve the public's perception of lawyers.

For example,
  • Did you know that Philadelphia lawyers handle about 6,000 cases per year for free to help people who can't afford to pay for legal services?
  • Did you know that about 3,000 Philadelphia lawyers volunteer their time to ensure access to justice for those struggling with poverty, abuse and discrimination?
  • Did you know that Philadelphia lawyers and judges have helped save about 3,000 homes from foreclosure so far, preventing homelessness and potential unemployment for thousands of struggling citizens, while also helping lenders cut their losses?
  • Did you know that we have more than thirty organizations helping everyone from children to senior citizens?
  • Did you know that we have been doing this kind of public service for more than 30 years?
All of these efforts are supported by our Delivery of Legal Services Committee and by our charitable arm, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation. And as I'm sure you can imagine, the needs of the bar foundation's grantees are especially acute in this time of financial hardship. So whether you are one of the many lawyers handling pro bono cases or not, please consider contributing to the foundation, or to your favorite public interest organizations directly.

And please help us tell the public about all the good things we do for our community. We should all be proud of our longstanding and pervasive commitment to the public good. Everyone should know that this is part of what it means to be a Philadelphia Lawyer.

Judicial Independence

And there is something else that we need to speak out about next year, that is every bit as important. We must be outspoken supporters of judicial independence.

We must continue to defend our judiciary against attacks by those who don't seem to understand the fundamental difference between applying the law and advancing a political agenda.

I'm sure you remember when, about five years ago, a campaign by Clean Sweep succeeded in defeating the retention of a well-respected Justice of our Pennsylvania Supreme Court. We have been fortunate since then, but we can't let our guard down. Just last month, three Iowa Supreme Court Justices were ousted because people didn't like the court's unanimous decision on same-sex marriage.

Since most schools have stopped teaching civics in this country, many people now think that judges are like other elected officials who can do whatever the voters want, instead of applying the applicable law. Well, such people have the right to be wrong, but we have the obligation to defend the judiciary when they are.

Judicial Selection

At the same time, we will continue to support efforts to improve our judicial selection process. Not surprisingly, clients can get quite concerned when they learn that an opposing lawyer contributed a substantial amount to the judge's election campaign. They may also have false expectations when their own lawyer made the contribution.

Now, let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that such contributions actually influence the results. But they do undermine public confidence in our judicial system. For that reason alone, we need to continue working toward a better process for selecting our state court judges.

Cooperation with the City

We also must recognize that we are an important part of a broader community. On many levels, our interests are intertwined with those of the city and the surrounding region.

Accordingly, we will continue to work with city officials on our many common goals. This year, Mayor Nutter was gracious enough to meet with us and firm leaders to discuss issues of importance to our legal community. We also have been consulted by members of City Council. We will continue to serve as a resource for the City and work together on our common goals next year and, hopefully, for many years to come.

Other Continuing Programs

And, of course, we must continue to bridge the gap between the Facebook generation and the face-lift generation. So, we will stay connected with our younger members through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And we will keep up with whatever new technologies may emerge.

We will also continue our Law Practice Management programming, our Civil Gideon initiative and our Bar Association Academy, and will help Philadelphia VIP celebrate its 30th year anniversary next year.

Historical Society

And while we focus on our future and our present, we must not forget our remarkable past. Last summer, our new Historical Society captured the reflections of 32 past Chancellors and our Executive Director, Ken Shear, on high-definition video, in partnership with Temple University. Personally, I think that project was the best of all of Scott Cooper's achievements this year.

So we will continue to build on what Scott has done.

Next year, the Historical Society website will be ready to launch. That will provide a permanent archive for the interviews and for additional materials that we will continue to collect, to preserve our association's long and fascinating history. The website will feature an interactive timeline of Philadelphia lawyer milestones. It will also feature a new permanent gallery for the Association's Legends of the Bar.

Bill Fedullo, Bobbi Liebenberg and former Chancellor Bob Heim have all done an exceptional job launching our Historical Society this year and I am pleased to announce that those efforts will continue next year.

Phila. Bar Leader Institute

And of course, our Young Lawyers Division and our many sections and committees will also continue to provide programs and events geared more specifically to their own segments of our bar. To help them with those projects, we will be launching a new Philadelphia Bar Leadership Institute in January. This institute will provide all of our section and committee chairs with guidance and training to help them improve their leadership skills, expand active participation and plan even more dynamic programs for their members.

These are just some of the things we will be doing next year.
We will chart a path not just for 2011, but for the years to come, and indeed, for the new decade that we are just beginning.
  • We will plan for our future.
  • We will maximize the value of membership in our association.
  • We will make meaningful progress on diversity.
  • We will continue to help those in need.
  • We will defend our judiciary.
  • We will enhance our role in the surrounding community.
  • We will preserve our past.
  • And we will continue to promote justice for all.
I hope you will all join me in working to achieve these goals.

If you do, I guarantee that you will be proud to be a Philadelphia Lawyer.
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