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Alan M. Feldman: A Personal Profile

by Elliott R. Feldman

Winter 2006, Vol. 68, No. 4

My brother Alan is about to be installed as the seventy-ninth Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. While Alan’s family and friends are very proud of him, we are not surprised. In fact, those of us who know Alan well have always more or less assumed that his destiny included leadership of the Philadelphia legal community. How could we have known? Here’s the story…

The first clue to Alan’s future success lies in how we were raised. Our childhood was spent in a West Philadelphia row house before our family moved to the Wynnefield section of the city. Alan’s legendary work ethic was forged by our parents, Manny and Bernice, who worked hard to support our family. Our father in particular thought that if you were old enough to walk and talk, you were old enough to work, but at the same time he and our mom supported us in whatever we chose to do. Although our dad passed away a few years ago, he was incredibly proud of Alan and his accomplishments and kept multiple scrapbooks devoted to Alan’s successes over the years, which he displayed to everyone who came to their home. Alan’s biggest fan, our mom, continues to take great pleasure in collecting media reports of his recent successes.

A product of Philadelphia’s public schools, Alan attended Bryant Elementary School, housed in the oldest school building in the city, and graduated from Central High School, a member of its 228th class and vice president of the Student Association. He began to apply our family’s work ethic early on, working in our Uncle Jack’s luncheonette after school every day and on weekends, from seventh grade through high school. Recognizing that he would need to stay local and work his way through college, Alan was admitted to Temple University’s first honors program. While at Temple, Alan found employment with a Center City law firm (for legal history buffs, it was Ettinger, Poserina, Silverman, Dubin, Anapol and Sagot), filing pleadings at City Hall and serving as an all-purpose go-fer in the office. In an era when T-shirts and jeans were the accepted dress code at college campuses, Alan was the guy in a dress shirt and tie, rushing from classes to work each day.

It was after college, however, when Alan’s drive, business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit really became unleashed. After graduating magna cum laude in 1973, he started at Temple University School of Law to pursue his absolutely certain objective of becoming a trial lawyer. At the same time, Alan founded AMF Associates, which provided legal filing and subpoena service for more than forty law firms in the Delaware Valley. He served process upon many reluctant individuals during early morning and late evening hours, seven days a week, squeezing in time to attend law school, taking the subway back and forth to City Hall to file legal documents. I can attest to the frenetic level of activity during this period of his life—I was his partner, and AMF Associates was how we paid our tuition and supported ourselves.

Temple, in addition to developing Alan’s natural intellectual curiosity and imbuing him with academic strengths worthy of any Bill Cosby promotion, also brought Alan the unanticipated good fortune to be introduced to his wife of thirty years, Maureen Pelta. They met on a “double date”—while each was out with someone else—and became fast friends before finally realizing that theirs was meant to be a lifelong relationship. They married after the completion of Alan’s second year of law school, shortly after Maureen completed her Temple undergraduate studies as an honors program double major in Art and Art History. Although her painting career ended with a Masaccio-like portrait of the then full-bearded future Chancellor, which to this day graces their turn-of-the-last-century home in Bala Cynwyd, Maureen proceeded to earn her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College. Since 1988, she has been on the faculty at Moore College of Art and Design, where she chairs the Liberal Arts Department and teaches as a full professor in Art History, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the art of the Italian Renaissance. She is also an active volunteer in the community, chairing the annual Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition for Philadelphia area high school students, which promotes tolerance through Holocaust education and the arts.

After clerking for one year with the Honorable Stanley M. Greenberg, Alan became an associate attorney for the firm now known as Raynes, McCarty. Ten years later, he joined forces with Carol Nelson Shepherd and Ezra Wohlgelernter, creating what is now a fourteen-lawyer firm considered one of Philadelphia’s premier plaintiffs’ litigation boutiques. Today, Feldman, Shepherd, Wohlgelernter, Tanner & Weinstock counts among its partners some of the best and brightest trial lawyers in the region, concentrating in medical malpractice, products liability, class action and other complex civil litigation. Alan has served as managing partner of the firm since its inception.

It is perhaps no surprise that the firm bears the imprint of Alan’s character and personality, which has resulted in the adoption of professional standards that combine a demand for excellence in all aspects of the firm’s practice with an acute sensitivity to the needs of its clients. This isn’t a paid advertisement; it’s really true. I know the guy well and can attest that he lives, eats and breathes his cases. His partner of nineteen years, Ezra, agrees: “The one word that best sums up Alan is passion: his passion for his family, friends and clients. Alan never asks others to work harder or do more than he does. Alan is all about leadership by example. His mantra could be ‘do as I do.’”

Alan’s partner Mark Tanner also calls Alan “a leader by example,” and observes, “whether it’s litigating a case or running our office, Alan works hard to achieve the right result, and usually manages to do so by consensus of all involved.” Carol Shepherd, another of the co-founders of the practice, sums it up: she calls her longtime partner “...the glue that holds our firm together. Whether it’s being everyone’s best fan and cheerleader, resolving disputes or developing long-range plans for the firm’s future, Alan is the go-to guy for all of us: our partner, friend and philosophical leader.” Alan’s secretary and office manager, Dee Kunkle (who has been with him since the firm was founded), joins the chorus: “Alan brings out the best in the people who work with him. He encourages everyone to go beyond what they perceive as their own limits—and they do. It’s as if Alan believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.”

But Alan did not nurture his professional development by just being a skilled lawyer and administrator. Perhaps more than anything else, Alan treasures the relationships he has formed during his career, for which he credits his Bar Association service. He explains: “The Bar Association exposed me to lawyers from different areas of practice, with varied backgrounds and experiences, many of whom I never would have met had my professional life been confined to my practice. I immediately began to develop friendships with a wide circle of people who, to this day, remain very close to me.” Among many others, former Chancellor Doreen Davis and noted trial lawyer Ken Rothweiler came to know Alan in their Young Lawyers Division days and remain proud of the devoted personal friendships they have enjoyed for more than twenty years. “A great and trusted friend I would not have known, but for the YLD. I know he’ll be a wonderful Chancellor,” says Doreen. Ken, his wife and kids have grown extremely close to the entire Pelta Feldman clan. “It’s ironic to realize that because of the Bar Association, a professional trade group, Linda and I have developed one of our most enduring and sustaining personal friendships with Alan and Maureen,” observes Ken.

Before he was a Bar leader, of course, Alan was (and is) widely respected as one of the top trial lawyers in town. Athletes often speak of visualizing the play before it occurs; Alan’s colleagues and opponents talk of his ability to try a case in his mind before the first witness is called. His interesting and diverse practice has included representing the firefighters killed in the One Meridian Plaza fire, prosecuting a class action for mental health patients of a fraudulent psychiatrist, winning a million-dollar verdict for a patron denied a “jackpot” by an Atlantic City casino, securing a multi-million-dollar verdict against an automobile manufacturer in a rare trial of a class action, and many other interesting and challenging cases. Interestingly, he achieved his stellar record of courtroom performance while remaining friends with most of his opponents. “Alan is as well liked as he is well respected, because he never promotes a victory at the expense of an opponent,” observes his good buddy, former Chancellor Abe Reich. “He is an honest broker and is respected as an intense but honest advocate. I’ve had many discussions with him about cases over the years, and his excitement about his practice and devotion to his clients never wanes.” My brother also is held in esteem by many members of the Judiciary. Judge William Manfredi, supervising judge of the Civil Trial Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, calls Alan “ extremely skilled litigator, always meticulously prepared for trial and conferences, and respected not just by his fellow plaintiffs’ attorneys but by the defense bar as well.” Judge Manfredi also credits Alan and the Bar Association for a terrific partnership with the court, which has achieved efficiencies in case management and other systems, contributing to national recognition of the Philadelphia Civil Trial Division as one the preeminent trial courts in the country.

A proud trial lawyer, Alan long has been recognized as a leader within the trial lawyer community. He served as president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, taught trial advocacy at Temple University School of Law for many years, and has been a speaker and course planner at more than fifty CLE programs. Alan has been certified as a Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and consistently has been honored as one of the top 100 Super Lawyers in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. His record of service to the Philadelphia Bar Association is equally impressive, including service as an officer or member of the Board of Governors for thirteen years, 1986 chair of the Young Lawyers Division, tenures on the Boards of the Bar Foundation and the Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP) and (believe me) more committees, task forces and other activities than can be described here. Examining Alan’s professional accomplishments and service to the legal community in Philadelphia, the question actually is not why he came to be our Chancellor, but how he could not have come to occupy this respected and important office.

Characteristically, Alan has a strong and distinct vision for the Philadelphia Bar Association for 2006. Building on the accomplishments of his predecessors, Alan intends to introduce law practice management support for Philadelphia lawyers: “It’s time for the Association to help Philadelphia lawyers grow their practices by offering significant assistance with technology, marketing and other business-related issues.” An enthusiastic and devoted supporter of legal services, he has plans to significantly elevate the level of funding for the more than two dozen organizations that provide access to justice to the needy. He will fiercely defend the independence of the judiciary, work to bring about merit selection of judges in the Philadelphia courts, and help make jury service a more comfortable and satisfying experience for the citizens who participate in this vitally important component of our system of justice. His plans are ambitious but, to quote Alan, “as Bill Clinton said, I’m not here just to warm the seat. What’s the point of being Chancellor if not to make a positive difference for our legal community?”

At home, Alan has learned to park his leadership qualities at the door, content to simply have some voice in a family of strong, independent women. Daughters Erica, 23, and Julia, 19, are perfect melds of Maureen’s artistic creativity and Alan’s analytical advocacy, seasoned with their own sparkling personalities. A recent graduate of the University of Chicago, Erica will begin graduate studies in her chosen field of linguistic anthropology next fall. Julia, a sophomore at Oberlin College, is leaning toward double majors in Latin and Art History, where she also is a disc jockey and the director of punk music on Oberlin’s radio station. That Alan and his “girls” love spending time together is evident to any casual observer; despite the fact that they now live in different areas of the country, Erica phones to chat almost daily, and Julia is frequently heard to dedicate favorite punk songs to “AMF” on her radio show. They continue to delight in planning family trips together to interesting locations (especially London, Santa Fe and anywhere in Italy).

So how does an on-the-go guy like my brother unwind? As his family and friends know, Alan has a techno-geek’s appreciation for all things electronic, which matches in intensity Maureen’s love affair with the arts. He is an avid (and extremely capable) photographer, with many striking photographic portraits of his family adorning his home and office. The quality and complexity of his collection of audio-visual components would do justice to a recording studio (he has more remotes than I have CDs).

For Maureen and Alan, their most cherished pleasure, however, is to spend quiet days and relaxing evenings at their shore home in Longport. To Alan, who has been an active runner for more than thirty years, life doesn’t get better than to have an early morning run on the beach, followed by a bicycle ride with Maureen; or a jaunt on his motor scooter, return home for one of Maureen’s exquisitely prepared meals; and then curl up on the sofa with a perfectly mixed martini and a copy of The New Yorker. If a kid brother can give his big brother some friendly advice, it would be this: “To the man who never stops working—get down the shore for a relaxing weekend soon, while you still have a weekend you can call your own.” And that sums up Alan: someone who is willing to sacrifice life’s personal pleasures to make a positive difference for us all.