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Developing Good Lawyers -- and Good Citizens

April 22, 2010 By:
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Blank Rome co-chair Alan J. Hoffman (left) and firm associate Lev Kalman, provided pro bono legal counseling to clients at the Jewish Family and Children's Service during the recent Louis D. Brandeis Society Day of Community Service.

The biblical call to provide tzedek, tzedek, tirdof -- or "justice for all" -- is heralded by partners, associates and support staff at Blank Rome LLP. Firm co-chairman Alan J. Hoffman explains that these age-old ideals of justice, mercy and due process that emanate from Jewish tradition are the primary principles of Western law and the values at the very core of the firm, which was founded in Philadelphia in June 1946.

Together with firm co-chairman T. Michael Dyer, managing partner and CEO Carl M. Buchholz (current chair of United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania), finance partner Gary R. Goldenberg and chairman emeritus Fred Blume, Hoffman and the Blank Rome leadership clearly lead by example.

Hoffman's personal commitment to Jewish organizations was shaped by his parents; his father is a Holocaust survivor. Currently, Hoffman serves as a member of Federation's Board of Directors and its 2010 Nominating Committee. His wife, Dr. Julie Goldman, is on the board of Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), a nonprofit organization supported by Federation that provides a broad-range of services to Philadelphia-area adults with special needs.

Like Hoffman, Gary R. Goldenberg's passion for the Jewish community was influenced by family mentors, including his father and grandfather, and encouraged by Blank Rome mentors such as Raymond L. Shapiro, senior counsel at the firm, and the late Samuel Rabinowitz.

Goldenberg says that it was Shapiro who counseled Goldenberg early on that "You have to get involved."

Goldenberg, who today works through his philanthropic efforts to ensure a secure environment for America and for Israel, was deeply influenced by his father, David Goldenberg, and grandfather, Jacob Goldenberg, both ardent Zionists.

They ignited a love in him for the Jewish state at an early age. Today, Goldenberg, a founding member of the Philadelphia Israel Network, continues the legacy. He also serves on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Philadelphia Leadership Council, the Board of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, Federation's Board of Trustees and the board of Har Zion Temple.

Goldenberg takes a special interest in mentoring younger attorneys at the firm, continuing the tradition of mentorship that was instilled in him, and encouraging firm associates and partners to pursue their passions in the world of Jewish communal involvement.

Leading the "call to action" to get involved, co-chairman Hoffman recently led a team of Blank Rome attorneys, who volunteered their time to provide pro bono legal counseling services to Jewish Family and Children's Service clients at the March 25 Stuart Agins Day of Service, sponsored by the Louis D. Brandeis Law Society.

It is no surprise that another Blank Rome attorney, Adam E. Laver, serves as Chancellor of the Brandeis Law Society, which organizes this annual event. Laver is also a vice chairman of JFCS and a member of Federation's Board of Trustees. A past recipient of Federation's Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Young Leadership Award, among others, Laver is representative of a new generation of Blank Rome attorneys devoted to communal involvement and working to create synergies among the many Jewish entities in which he participates.

A member of National Young Leadership Cabinet, additional highlights of Laver's current Jewish communal portfolio include his role on Federation's Policy, Strategy & Funding Committee, and his fundraising efforts as co-chair of the Renaissance Group Campaign.

Blank Rome is a long-standing platinum sponsor of many significant Federation events. Numerous firm attorneys, such as Shari Odenheimer, Larry Chane, Bernard Glassman and, in the words of Laver, "minyans more," serve on Federation boards and committees.

According to Hoffman, "we like our lawyers to be out in the community, meeting people and taking a leadership role in charitable organizations," adding that "in the process, they become more well-rounded, becoming better attorneys and better people."

He points with pride to Blank Rome's adoption of a formal firm policy that encourages each of its lawyers and paralegals to undertake at least 60 hours of pro bono service every year. This policy is grounded in the commitment to charitable involvement evidenced by the late Edwin P. Rome, one of the firm's founding partners.

Rome served as court-appointed counsel for Aaron Turner, an African-American laborer accused of beating to death a factory employee. He defended Aaron "Treetop" Turner through five separate trials over the course of 11 years. Rome refused to give up, and Turner was ultimately freed.

Each year, the firm recognizes exceptional commitment to volunteer service through the Edwin P. Rome Pro Bono Achievement Award.

Kathy Ochroch is director of pro bono services at the firm. Since 2002, she has functioned in the capacity of "charitable match-maker -- establishing contacts with human-service organizations in each of the firm's nine locations to identify meaningful projects, and encourage and support staff participation.

"I meet with our partners and associates to determine where their interests lie and match them with projects that represent their passions," she explained.

Ochroch maintains that there is a wide range of projects to choose from, including protecting immigrant victims of domestic violence, organizing and staffing Holocaust-reparation clinics, helping low-income families and seniors retain title to their homes and vacating death-penalty sentences. Attorneys also serve on the boards of public-interest organizations, and as counsel to local and national advocacy organizations.

Associates who take on the challenge of pro bono work receive specialized training and are guided by firm partners, like Raymond L. Shapiro, who continues to be a respected mentor at Blank Rome after more than 26 years. Shapiro expressed his belief that senior firm members owe it to their associates to "set a standard of excellence through their own charitable involvement."

Shapiro has set the bar high. He is the president of the Jewish Publication Group, which publishes the Jewish Exponent and Inside magazine, and also has served as a Federation treasurer and vice president.

One of his most memorable "Jewish journeys," he says, was the 1975 Koach Mission to Israel -- the first of five Federation-sponsored missions that he would participate in with his wife, Judie, who he refers to as his full "philanthropic partner."

The Jewish precept of L'Dor v'Dor -- the responsibility of one generation to care and prepare for the next -- best articulates the rationale for Shapiro's commitment to involvement in Jewish and secular causes.

"You owe it to yourself, to those who have come before you and to those who will come after you," he says. "People have both an opportunity and an obligation to make a difference."

Blank Rome partner Joan N. Stern, a leader in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community, also reflects on tradition: "My mother was a vice president of the Board of Jewish Education and founded the first Jewish regional high school. My father was one of the founders of the Technion."

Stern's involvement in Federation began in earnest after the death of her sister, Miriam L. Gafni, a Jewish communal leader, attorney and feminist. Gafni, the former president of Germantown Jewish Centre, was enjoying a new career as director of the Project for Advancement of Tourism in the Galilee until she was killed in a car accident at the age of 53.

Stern notes that she was inspired by Gafni's passion for community service and stepped up her own involvement to continue her sister's legacy.

She says her commitment to Federation -- which includes service as co-chair of the Center for Israel and Overseas, and as a member of Federation's Board of Trustees -- is fully supported by the leadership of Blank Rome, where she has recently completed 39 years of service.

Stern adds that she had the privilege of working with the firm's first Managing Partner Marvin Comisky.

"When I came on board, he had already served as both Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. At the time, he was on the board of JNF and was a wonderful role model and mentor," she says.

In nearly four decades with Blank Rome, Stern has watched the firm, and its civic and charitable involvement, grow exponentially.

"Then and now, Blank Rome attorneys are encouraged to assume leadership roles in numerous professional, civic and charitable organizations," she says.

Apart from Federation and other Jewish entities, the firm is very active in wide-ranging civic and charitable activities, stretching from the firm's Philadelphia office to its space in Hong Kong. In each of the communities in which the firm finds itself, Blank Rome is a visible presence.

Says Stern: "Our firm believes the best lawyers are 'complete lawyers' -- good attorneys and good citizens who are committed to improving community."

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