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December 04, 2012

Inaugural Address of Kathleen D. Wilkinson, 86th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association

Thank you, John.

It's been a real pleasure working with John Savoth as he charted the course for our Association this year. John, you have been a true example of character, leadership and integrity and I thank you today - as I know our members also thank you.

I am delighted to have soon-to-be Chancellor-Elect Bill Fedullo as part of our team and look forward to continuing to work with him.

It is a tremendous honor to stand here, soon to be the Chancellor of this great Association. I feel indebted to so many.

With no lawyers in my family, and only my father having completed college, I was inspired and encouraged to succeed.

I must thank my family for their support, beginning with my father, Michael - and my mom, Marie - Yesenko, who provided a caring home for me and my sister, Denise. My mother passed away three years ago, and I know she is very proud. She could tell you that my hardworking Scottish grandfather emigrated from Canada, and that my Irish grandmother - from Brooklyn - had a wonderful sense of humor.

My other grandparents emigrated from Austria and Germany, speaking no English. The youngest of five children - my dad lost his father when he was two years old, but his two sisters and two brothers took care of him, while his mother worked as a housecleaner. Two of them - Uncle Val and Aunt Mitzi - are here today.

I am very proud of my three children, Lindsey, Lauren and Michael, who like to sing and are talented in many different ways. Thank you for all the fun and for attending all those Bar events over the years!

Today, we have a historic moment for the two largest bar associations in Pennsylvania, as well as for Pennsylvania and maybe the nation. Usually, we turn to the audience to thank our spouse, but today, I must look on the dias for the President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and also my husband, Tom Wilkinson.

I met Tom on the very first day of law school at Villanova and - after 27 years of marriage - he continues to inspire and support me to reach for my goals and aspirations.

While Tom and I didn't plan on serving overlapping terms as leaders of the state's two largest Bar associations, we are honored to serve and share a common passion for advancing the interests of our profession.

Tom and I are proud to be Villanova Law School graduates, part of Villanova Law J. Willard O'Brien American Inn of Court, and we thank the law school, and its faculty for providing a wonderful education and being a constant partner throughout our careers.

Thanks also to my firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, and to Dan McMahon - the Chair of our national firm, Ken Scott - the Managing Partner of the Philadelphia office, the executive committee, and the members of the firm for your friendship, encouragement and your understanding of the commitment involved in serving as Chancellor.

The Philadelphia Bar Association, chartered in 1802, is the oldest association of lawyers in the United States.

Today, our Association is more diverse than ever before. A little over 20 years ago, our Association made history when Deborah Willig broke through a barrier to become the "first" woman Chancellor. Today, I am the sixth woman to hold this position in over 210 years.

Since that time, our leadership has become more diverse.

Today more than ever, the Bar Association is committed to inclusion and diversity in serving the legal profession. At the same time, we remain committed to serve the public interest through pro bono service and our mission of promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the rule of law.

But as our Association continues to evolve, we already see the signs of a shift in the profession.

Change is upon us.

A new generation of lawyers, vast technological advances and economic challenges require reexamination of traditional notions of legal practice and expertise.

Law schools and law firms must adapt to succeed in this challenging environment.

Therefore, we must not only focus on where we've been as a Bar Association, but also where we're going.

Indeed, we must ask ourselves some difficult questions.

In this new environment, we must ask: How does the Bar Association remain relevant to our profession?

The answer isn't easy or simple.

But one thing is certain.

A more diverse and inclusive Bar Association is vital to our success - a Bar Association that allows all attorneys to get involved. To network. To find jobs. And to serve our clients effectively.

And although we have made some progress in the area of women and minority attorneys in the legal profession, we must do better.

Today, we as a Bar Association should not be satisfied with the percentage of minority attorneys who are law firm partners or associates.

Nor should we be content with the number of women who become partners in law firms or who remain in the profession. And of course, the same applies to LGBT attorneys.

In an environment where billable hour models and bringing in business remain the norm, law firms and legal organizations that also value leadership, mentoring, community service, pro bono work - and give recognition to all of these important aspects of being a lawyer - should have their choice of the very best and brightest young lawyers.

Therefore, next year we will launch a Chancellor's Leadership Institute to provide ongoing substantive programming aimed at assisting and developing leadership skills and opportunities for women attorneys, attorneys of diverse backgrounds and young lawyers new to the profession, so they can succeed in today's legal profession.

Through the power of partnerships, we will host these programs in conjunction with other legal organizations and Philadelphia law firms, harnessing the wisdom and experience of some of our city's top legal minds.

As one of our first Chancellor's Leadership Institute programs, we will partner with our Young Lawyers Division to present a Chancellor's Forum on the topic of "20th Century Associates in a 21st Century Legal Environment."

This program will give advice on how to prepare today's law school graduates for the realities of practicing law in the new economy. I am pleased to announce that Villanova Law School Dean John Gotanda has agreed to participate in this program.

But the Chancellor's Leadership Institute will not be limited only to programs.

We will be expanding opportunities for greater participation by all attorneys through new liaison positions for all of our Sections and larger Committees. We have already seen success with this model through our Young Lawyers Division Section liaisons.

This past year, our Association passed a Resolution supporting hearings conducted by the City of Philadelphia, at the urging of Mayor Michael Nutter and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, to examine the lack of women on corporate boards with which the City does business.

In 2013, we look forward to continuing to examine this important issue by partnering with other area groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, and The Forum of Executive Women.

I know that in the Philadelphia region, there are many talented women, including women attorneys, who are more than qualified to serve on corporate boards.

On the heels of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - and in a region known worldwide as a leading center for healthcare, pharma and life sciences - we must also be responsive to the needs of insurance and health care practitioners. We will explore the creation of a new Section to provide a meeting ground for these practitioners.

Given the public's interest in many issues surrounding education, and recent developments in the law, we will also create a Special Committee focusing on Education Law, whether in PreK to 12th grade, or colleges and universities. This Committee will provide a forum to examine important initiatives affecting our youth and the bar's role in this area.

In addition to building new areas of involvement for our members, we will re-energize existing Bar committees that foster dialogue between the Bar Association and our many valued law firms.

I am pleased to announce that Vincent McGuinness, managing partner of Cozen O'Connor, has agreed to serve as co-chair of our newly reactivated Large Firm Management Committee. Similarly, we will see reactivation of our Mid-Size Firm Management Committee.

These committees will discuss common issues and goals for lawyers at mid to large size firms.

Philadelphia lawyers represent a significant part of the Philadelphia business community. We want the City to be strong and remain vibrant. Through the Bar Association, we will reach out to the Mayor and City officials, and key governmental leaders to address our issues and goals.

Today, approximately 95 percent of large firms nationwide have established women's initiatives. Foremost on the agendas of many women's initiatives is improvement in four key areas: equity partnership, compensation, rainmaking and top leadership positions.

Accordingly, next year we will create a Women's Initiatives Task Force to delve into these key issues. The Task Force will be chaired by Caitlin Piccarello of Saul Ewing.

The mission of this Task Force is two-fold. It will create a network and foster a dialogue among leaders from women's initiatives in Philadelphia law firms and legal departments. It will also support the creation, growth and continued relevancy of women's initiatives in such firms and departments.

Make no mistake - the changes I have described are not just about creating a seat at the table. This is about positioning our Bar Association and our lawyers for the future and growing our profession by ensuring greater opportunities for every lawyer.

Of course, opening new doors of opportunity today would not be possible without those who paved the way for us.

Next year, our Association will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Award.

This award is presented annually to an outstanding woman attorney in the Philadelphia area who has demonstrated superior legal talent, advocacy for the advancement of women in the profession and a reputation for mentorship.

In honor of this very special anniversary, please join us for our June Quarterly Meeting and Luncheon on Wednesday, June 12th, an event you won't want to miss, as we welcome the first woman Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, to commemorate this milestone in the history of our Association.

In 2013, we will also celebrate another historic anniversary, one with a profound impact on the American justice system - the 50th Anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright.

In Gideon, the Court recognized that, in a society of profoundly unequal resources, justice can only prevail if the state provides indigent defendants with legal representation.

Our Civil Gideon Task Force will continue to study the implementation of a civil right to counsel in those areas where basic human needs are at stake, while marking this important anniversary.

But just as we look inward at our Association next year, we will also grow our reach in the community in new ways.

In 2012, we expanded our Military Assistance Program, to enable volunteer lawyers to not only provide free legal assistance to active-duty military personnel, but also to Philadelphia veterans who cannot afford or do not have access to the legal services they need.

In 2013, we will further support our servicemen and women of the Delaware Valley. We will partner with the United States Coast Guard, by providing wills on a pro bono basis. In addition, we will refer any local Coast Guard member or family member to a volunteer attorney to provide pro bono assistance in a wide variety of matters.

There are nearly 600 active duty personnel and 200 reservists who are part of Sector Delaware Bay, headquartered at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.

As a major port city, Philadelphia has a long maritime history and for over two centuries the U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded those in peril, as America's Maritime Guardian.

There is no attorney on staff located at the Coast Guard in Philadelphia.

Our partnership with this vital branch of the U.S. military helps us to "protect those who protect us."

Joining us on the dais today, I am pleased to welcome Lt. Commander Rick Detar, United States Coast Guard, who is stationed at Sector Delaware Bay, Philadelphia, and is in charge of law enforcement on the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, down to Cape May and up to Atlantic City. I have appointed Jeffrey Moller, partner at Blank Rome, and Daniel Goettle, partner at Woodcock Washburn, to be in charge of this program. Jeff graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and has a long career as a commissioned member of the Coast Guard. Dan spent many years as a line officer and then a lawyer with the Coast Guard. Thank you!

As Philadelphia lawyers, we are the keepers of the legacy of Andrew Hamilton. We proudly represent the legal profession to the world.

As part of that legacy, we have pledged to serve with civility and professionalism. These are our greatest attributes. This is our greatest responsibility.

In my heart, I know that civility, professionalism and a strong work ethic are the attributes that contributed to my own success, and are part of who I am. By showing professionalism in everything we do, we serve as role models for young lawyers.

President George Washington was guided by 110 "Rules of Civility" that were compiled in 1595 by Jesuits for teaching children. As a teenage boy in Virginia, Washington copied the 110 rules into a notebook and carried them his entire life, including all eight years as President of the United States.

Rule #1 sets the tone: "Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present."

Civility served Washington well, helping him lead a new nation. Modern lawyers can learn from Washington's example.

As lawyers, we share identities and strong values amidst our rich diversity and our nation's history.

But here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of freedom, as Philadelphia lawyers, we owe a higher obligation to honor and respect our legacy.

And so in 2013, let us all have civility and professionalism be part of everything we do as Philadelphia lawyers.

Earlier, I spoke of our agenda next year in the context of "change" - the changes that are bearing upon us as a profession.

I believe that creating new opportunities for leadership and development of our lawyers will help us meet the challenges of a constantly evolving profession.

So in conclusion, today, with your help, I ask that you join together with me so that - in the year ahead - we might give this great Association and our legal profession a bright and lasting future that we truly deserve.

Thank you.

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