The Philadelphia Bar Foundation was founded in 1964 with the mission of promoting equal access to justice and ensuring that all individuals understand their right to equal justice under law. The Bar Foundation is the only organization in Philadelphia solely dedicated to supporting the city’s legal services community, awarding unrestricted grants and other technical assistance to nearly 40 nonprofit legal aid organizations. The organizations that the Bar Foundation support represent the full range of vital legal services for people in need, and they collectively serve tens of thousands of clients every year.
Programs, Fellowships, and Awards
In addition to grantmaking, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation helps remove barriers to justice and build system-wide capacity through a myriad of programs and partnerships:
The Board Observer Program (BOP) is a program that allows young lawyers to volunteer and serve on the board of a nonprofit without a financial obligation. The Observers learn first-hand what serving on a board is like, gaining leadership skills and strengthening their professional network; and the participating nonprofits benefit from the energy and new ideas these young lawyers bring to their boards. BOP is a partnership between the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, the Delivery of Legal Services Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association – in 2014, the program received the LexisNexis “Partnerships For Success” Award of the NCBF.
The Morris M. Shuster Public Interest Fellowship Program provides awards each year to deserving public interest attorneys to help them retire law school debt.
The Honorable Albert W. Sheppard Scholarship Fund supports a law student clerkship position with the Commerce Case Management Program, in coordination with the Business Litigation Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Business Law Section.
The Judge William M. Marutani Fellowship subsidizes a summer internship position with a nonprofit public interest organization, court, or government entity, in conjunction with the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA).
The R. Nicholas Gimbel Fund for Legal Excellence offers advocacy skills training programs at no cost for public interest lawyers in the Philadelphia area that practice at government agencies and nonprofits providing access to free or low-cost legal services. The training sessions support high-level instruction on trial strategy and techniques to strengthen courtroom advocacy skills.
The annual Samuel T. Gomez Memorial Award is presented by the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA) to a law student who embodies commitment and compassion through their community service.
The Bar Foundation administers funds for the Association of Corporate Counsel Greater Philadelphia’s (ACCGPA) Diversity Corporate Internship Program, which sponsors an annual internship aimed at increasing diversity within corporate legal departments.
The Foundation assists the “Supervision to Aid Reentry” (or STAR program) of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with the Judge Alfred L. Luongo Fund. This Fund provides essential assistance and resources to individuals reintegrating into our community, including help with employment, housing, and health care. The Luongo Fund also supports two specialized courts in the Eastern District that are critical in improving the chances of long-term success: the Mental Health Protocol program and Relapse Prevention Court, which provide structure and support to participants facing mental health issues and substance addiction.
The Foundation administers an innovative LexisNexis Research Grant Program that provides our nonprofit partners with online research time, tools, and training at no cost.
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation acknowledges excellence in the legal profession for public interest service and pro bono service through awards:
Every year, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award recognizes a public interest attorney who is dedicating their life to promoting equal access to justice for all by working in the nonprofit legal services community. The Pro Bono Award of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is also presented annually to a law firm or corporate legal department that demonstrates outstanding volunteer efforts in providing pro bono services to those in need.
The Honorable Louis H. Pollack Champion of the Public Interest Award is presented on special occasions to honor a lawyer, in private practice, who has demonstrated extraordinary service throughout their career, including through support of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation. The Trailblazers for Justice Award is a posthumous award that honors individuals who led the way in Philadelphia in creating equal access to justice for all.
A New Ideal for the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid
Perhaps the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s most exciting project is the Equal Justice Center (EJC). Set to open in 2022, the EJC, a purpose-built nonprofit center, will co-locate several of the preeminent legal aid nonprofits in Philadelphia, completely transforming the delivery of civil legal services in the City and setting a new national standard for inter-agency collaboration, operational efficiency, and client-centered delivery of free legal services. Learn more at www.philaequaljusticecenter.org
Staff and Leadership
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is supported by five staff members, led by Executive Director Jessica Hilburn-Holmes. Laura Powers, the Director of Development and Communications, is a member of the NCBF’s Communications Committee. The Foundation’s leadership consists of a 32-member Board of Trustees, including five Ex-Officio members from the leadership of the Philadelphia Bar Association.