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New Bridges of Understanding: An Interview with the Bar's 74th Chancellor

by Nancy L. Hebble

Winter 2000, Vol. 63, No. 4

Carl S. Primavera's soft-spoken straight talk on the issues that make up his agenda seems well thought out and proves an easy fit with his goal of building new bridges of understanding within the community and the profession. At 47, a partner in the law firm of Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers LLP and one of the city's leading land use practitioners, one fiercely loyal to his home turf, Carl Primavera is anxious to take the helm and uphold the traditions of the Philadelphia Bar Association, the nation's oldest chartered metropolitan bar association and the organization of which he is most proud.

In the year ahead, Primavera wants the Bar to move forward in several vital areas: with the business community and the public in Philadelphia, with government and the courts, and with services to Philadelphia Bar Association members as well as to members of related professional associations. The new Chancellor has called for a renewed partnership with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and has met with Chamber President Charles Pizzi about it.

"I feel that the Chamber could benefit from our tremendous expertise, credibility and the relationships that we have in government as the organized bar. It would be a win-win for us to find ways to pool our resources for greater efficiency and greater support," Primavera says.

He wants to see increased jury participation by the public and more interest in the election of judges. Primavera says that next year the Judicial Commission will look at a process to create the new rating of "highly qualified" that would recognize judicial candidates that are head and shoulders above what would be traditionally acknowledged as qualified or recommended.

"We hope it will create a climate for people who aren't political to see a judicial opportunity as something they might strive for," he says.

Primavera also wants a closer dialog with judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. "We feel it's important to have our own communication with and recognition by the high court," he notes.

In addition, he wants to provide new services to Bar members, specifically those who are government lawyers and sole and small-firm practitioners. "We want to be relevant to all our Association members," he says, "but a series of networking/outreach receptions are being planned for government lawyers while sole and small-firm practitioners will benefit from marketing seminars presented by big-firm administrators." Finally, Primavera wants to add new dimensions to the relationships the Bar holds with the American Bar Association as well as with local county bar associations. "We think there might be ways for us to link up with the surrounding counties and provide services for their members through our technology," he explains.

Excerpts from a recent interview follow:

Q: Why did you want to become Chancellor?

A: I have great regard and respect for the many Chancellors I've worked for and worked with, and I've always enjoyed a challenge. So it was my challenge to see if I could put the same time, energy and devotion to what is an important cause and important mission. Other people shared that same vision and supported me in that goal. It then became something within reach with the support of partners, family and friends. So I went for it, and I'm glad I did.

Q: When your year is done, what would you like to be remembered for?

A: For meeting the challenge, for having moved the ball forward, for creating some renewed level of interest, enthusiasm, energy, greater participation in and a clearer focus for the Philadelphia Bar Association. But more than any one particular thing, I just hope people will have a very good feeling about where our association and profession are at the millennium.

Q: Let's talk about the focus points on your agenda for next year. You have talked about a renewed partnership with the Chamber of Commerce.

A: While wearing our hat as a trade association we have the feeling that we're a large, important segment in the business community. But we haven't really had a hands-on, direct and close relationship with the Chamber. I feel that the Chamber could benefit from our tremendous expertise, credibility and the relationships that we have in government as the organized bar. It would be a win-win for us to find ways to pool our resources, our talents and contacts for a common cause, for greater efficiency and greater support. I'm going to be sitting down with Chamber President Charlie Pizzi again soon. I want to recommend some type of task force that would actually work to come up with programs and opportunities for networking. We can see how to help each other and find ways to bring us closer together. It's a way for us to advance our own trade organization causes, but it may also help us with the Bar Foundation and the other support groups that provide legal services to those who are not able to afford them.

Q: You have talked about closer dialog with the Supreme Court as well.

A: The Supreme Court plays such a unique role with regard to the legal community on several fronts. We've seen what they've done with IOLTA and legal services. We've seen what they've been able to do with continuing legal education. We've seen the role they play with regard to the administration of the courts. They're so important to us on so many fronts that we would like to have some direct line of communication, however we can structure that, so that we can feel closer to the court in its various roles and so that we can be more responsive to our members who have questions and concerns about various programs.

Q: How will you accomplish this?

A: Well, they've always been there when we needed them. They played an important role in the 1998 Public Interest Summit by directing us to do what we could to advance legal services for the indigent. They've been with us with IOLTA. They've worked with us on CLE issues. So we've certainly had their support, but it's been more on an issue or cause-related basis. I'm thinking of a more consistent and regular line of communication. In that way the court can say how we can be helpful with regard to issues important to them. We're fortunate that we have within close geographic distance representation by Justices Nigro, Castille and Newman, but we have great relationships with the other justices as well.

Now there was some concern about the Supreme Court's recognizing the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA). Obviously as the statewide organization of lawyers, that's an appropriate body to share a common bond with. And we're certainly close with the PBA. But as the largest metropolitan bar and representing so many practitioners and representing such an important part of the statewide legal community, we feel that it's important to have our own communication with and recognition by the state Supreme Court. The thinking is that without diminishing the PBA, we, ourselves, don't want to be perceived as having been diminished or forgotten. I do think there's a way we can make this a positive rollout for the Bar and for our members and one that won't threaten any standing relationships with the court, whether it be the state bar or any other organized group.

Q: Another agenda item you had talked about was the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Public Interest Section next year. What can you tell us about that?

A: It's so hard to believe that it's been ten years since the section was formed. Recently former Chancellor Bob Heim expressed, on behalf of the Public Interest Section, the desire to celebrate and thank the various parts of the public interest community and the public interest bar. Such a program could re-energize and reinvigorate attorneys in private firms to do more in the way of public service and to work in the public interest community. The tremendous business environment we're now enjoying has been a challenge in that lawyers are so busy working for the firms that they don't always have the time to think about their pro bono obligations. But by celebrating the public interest community, we're hoping to educate new associates coming into law firms and maybe re-educate other lawyers about opportunities to provide pro bono representation. Q: Do you see this as a single event, a series of events, or perhaps a yearlong awareness campaign?

A: We would like to highlight the Public Interest Section in some way at each of the quarterly meetings next year. We would also like to spotlight the annual dinner as, perhaps, the most public aspect of the celebration. We may plan some workshops to create a buzz in the Philadelphia legal community and to promote awareness of what we're doing and how valuable that is. Also, to some extent, these efforts will remind the public that we in the organized bar are always active and vigilant in trying to provide legal services for those who can't afford them.

Q: The public keeps coming up in your agenda-with lawyers serving the public. But you also have talked about the public serving the system. You have said that increased jury participation is one of your programs or your interests.

A: Last year we had a great program on Jury Appreciation Day. President Judge Bonavitacola and others were there and the Philadelphia Bar Association participated. I was very much impressed with the fact that we in the legal system have a vested interest on our own behalf, and on behalf of our clients, to make sure the jury system remains strong and that it can perhaps even be improved through greater participation. When you think about the need to have qualified jurors-jurors who are cognizant of the importance of the duty, jurors who feel that they're adding to the system, that they're being treated fairly as they're going through their service, who are being supported by their employers, respected by their community for providing this service, treated fairly by the court system-you then realize how important this whole process is and what more we can do to advance that cause.

The importance of trial by jury has been expressed many, many times by the organized bar, yet how meaningful is that if, in fact, the participation on the panels is limited and not as well supported by the community as it could be? I know that President Judge Bonavitacola and Administrative Judge Herron are working on ways to increase participation, and I'm committed to our being as much of a resource to them as we can be through the Bar Association. Also, there's Julie Hoke and Lynn Marks at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. They have a high level of energy on this. Allan Gordon, through a national trial lawyer organization, has been promoting greater participation by the community on jury panels. So we're not alone. We have many resources and allies. And there's no reason to think that in a very short time we can't improve both the numbers of people participating and the level of support from employers who will be very understanding when their employees get called for jury service.

Q: Jury service is part of good citizenship, and voting in elections is too. You have talked about the heavy workload that the Judicial Commission will have next year, thirty openings, isn't it? Can you expand on that?

A: We are expecting a tremendous amount of work by the commission next year. All of the candidates have to be reviewed through the investigative teams. Reports have to be prepared. Presentations have to be made. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and time. Because of the importance of the process, it has to be done right. In the last few years we've done a very good job of getting the word out to the public about the judges that are recommended, the ones the commission has found to be qualified. We've worked with the press, and we've worked with the political parties. But I think there is even more we could do, in effect, to promote and publicize the good work of the commission so that the electorate has a better understanding and knowledge of the candidates. Nick Lisi will chair the commission next year. He has served in the past on the commission and on its investigative teams. It may be that we'll do the investigations and complete the process with the retention judges first so that we can have that out of the way when we start with the new candidates.

We're also looking at a process that might create a new category of "highly qualified" that would allow the Bar to publicize those candidates that are head and shoulders above what would traditionally be acknowledged as qualified or recommended. The commission would have to adopt that idea and it would have to go through via bylaw change. It's a concept I very much favor. We think there will be enough support and interest to make it happen this year. Ultimately, we hope it will encourage competent and qualified people who think they might get lost in the mix to come forward-for example, those who may not enjoy political support, but those who, by going through the process and by reaching the highest level of recognition may attract attention in quarters where they wouldn't have been able to before. We also hope it will be a way of creating a culture and climate for people who aren't political to still see a judicial opportunity as something they might strive for. That in itself would have a very positive impact.

Q: What else can you tell us about your substantive agenda?

A: Let me just go through some things, in no particular order: Allen Gordon has done a tremendous job with the New Jersey bona fide office issue, and I know he'll continue with that next year. The Bar staff has had award-winning success with the Web site, and we're going to continue working hard on technology issues. The component that we think we're in very good shape with is our relationship to Philadelphia mayors. We had Mayor Rendell being a member of our Association, and now Mayor Street. We've just been really well positioned there. On our membership side, Jeff Lindy and Richard Seidel have agreed to serve another year. They've done a wonderful job with membership renewals.

I think there's going to be continuing interest in multidisciplinary practice, with expanded discussion about multi-district practices in litigation. Maybe MDP won't be advanced, but I think there's a lot of pressure at the national level at least for litigators to be able to practice in litigation matters on a nationwide basis. I would like for Vernon Francis and Mark Alderman to stay with us and follow these trends. They've just done a great job.

Another one of the things we're going to look at carefully is non-dues revenue for the Bar Association, such as sponsorships. Sponsorships are an exciting way for us to provide more services without accessing our dues revenue. Hopefully more sponsorships will come as a return on our technology investment in the Web site. Also, this year's Board retreat will be in Philadelphia. We're going to have a joint retreat with the Young Lawyers. In addition, we're going to invite the chairs of all the committees in an attempt to re-energize those groups and to make the chairs realize that in many respects their work is really the lifeblood of our organization. The Board may get the visibility and all of the hot-potato issues, but the real day-to-day work is done at the committee level.

We're going to continue the work on the important projects of the Women in the Profession and the Minorities in the Profession committees.

We're going to add new dimensions to the work we do with other bar associations. I think it's a tremendous opportunity for us to keep visible and keep active on a national level with the American Bar Association and on a state level with the PBA. We also want to continue our work with the county bars-that's become a very cordial working relationship, by the way. We think there may be ways for us, without threatening the county bars' independence, to link up and provide them with services for their members through our technology.

Law Day will continue as a tremendous opportunity to work with the Young Lawyers and the community and to get the word out that we're there for people who need access to legal services. So we're excited about the year 2001.

Q: Beyond this substantive agenda, is there some specific message that you want to send to the membership for next year?

A: Well, I would like to engage the membership in a way that will have everyone doing a little bit more. You know, if everyone does a little bit, nobody has to do a lot. What I have found is that in any organization there are always a few people who seem to do most of the work. But as our Association becomes more complex and more sophisticated, it's really important that we take advantage of our greatest resource, which is our membership. A lot of people worked very hard to get me to this point, and I'm going to be asking that they work just as hard during my year on the work of the Association. It would be meaningless to be Chancellor without the day-to-day commitment, energy and dedication from your supporters when you actually take the lead.

Q: Beyond the membership, is there a specific message you want to send to the public about lawyers and the Philadelphia Bar Association?

A: Clearly, I would like to be a very visible and active leader, putting a name and face to the Bar Association. Lawyers always have this tension between being either the hero or the sneaky type that's been portrayed in so many stereotypes. But, in general, I think we've done a good job explaining through the media that if we're unpopular it's because we take causes that by their nature are unpopular. The indigent defendant in a criminal case is not going to be popular, yet that's a responsibility that we have. The poor have many needs that require that we take unpopular positions. So, we can live with being unpopular, if it's an unpopularity that stems from our inherent role as the protector of the legal rights of people.

What we don't want is to be unpopular because of stereotypes and misinformation. The best thing we can do to promote our own cause and the cause of our clients is to tell people what we're doing and let them come to their own judgment. If you look at the development of the city over the past ten years, lawyers have had a tremendous role in bringing it to where it is-whether they're lawyers in government or lawyers in the private sector or lawyers serving as mayors. We have a lot to be proud of, and we can, just by showing what we do, open up a lot of eyes.

Q: At a time when the Bar Association is planning events to commemorate its 200th anniversary, what trends do you see for the future of the Philadelphia lawyers?

A: It's fascinating . . . the growth of law firms is definitely going to continue to be a phenomenon. In fact, we see that the law firms now are growing not only through satellite offices and branch offices, but even still in Philadelphia. To some extent what we're seeing is a talent crunch-the firms are all wondering how to get the talented lawyers that they need to compete. What the Bar Association has to do is continue the efforts to convince lawyers graduating from both local or other law schools to either stay in or come to Philadelphia.

Q: Do you have any specific plans for how the Bar Association can serve its members better?

A: One of the things that we would like to do is to highlight the tremendous number of resources through our contacts both in the legal community and also our vendors. Cheryl Gaston, with the Government Lawyers Committee, wants to hold a series of informal receptions where she will invite government lawyers, as well as private lawyers who may be thinking about careers in government, to listen to people like Ed Rendell or John Street or Arlen Specter, or any number of other people who have been in both public and private practice. Hopefully this will appeal to people in private practice interested in the challenge of public practice and want to make the transition. Conversely, these sessions may interest people from government who are curious about a private practice but haven't the entry or the access.

Another project has to do with law firm marketing administrators. I would like to incorporate these administrators, many from large firms, into our association with the hope that they would sponsor seminars and clinics for either sole practitioners or small firms on how they can market themselves and their firms. Many of our members are sole practitioners or in small firms, so we need to take more of an active interest in the Solo and Small Firm Committee and its membership. Since they have such varied and different practices, it's sometimes difficult for us to come away with a common understanding of how we can be beneficial to them. But we're going to try to get a real sense of what's helpful. We want to be relevant to all our Association members.

Q: Is there any topic that you haven't covered or anything else you would like to say to the membership?

A: I'm really hoping that, despite the tremendous business opportunities and climates that we find and the pressures of billable hours and all the private and family commitments we have, we don't lose one of the really special things about being a Philadelphia lawyer-the collegiality, the feeling of being in a common cause, working together, enjoying our prestige as lawyers in a first-rate legal community. The way we can cherish that and hold onto it is really through some type of active involvement with the Bar. Not everyone's going to make the same level of commitment, not everyone has the time or the energy to do that. But I'm really hoping that people will continue to stay involved. Pick a committee, pick a cause. If someone calls you for a fund-raiser, please be helpful. If somebody needs support on a project, make yourself available. If you can't do it in your firm, recommend someone who may have the time.

We have many projects in many specialty areas. There really is an opportunity for everyone to feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment at the Bar. And if everyone can contribute, we'll be able to move forward and everyone will feel proud. That's my call for help, and that's the challenge I'm asking people to meet. I know they will be rewarded many times over for whatever they do.