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Amber M. Racine, an attorney and leader of the Philadelphia Bar Association, dies at 38

Ms. Racine, who was described as a “rising star” in the city’s legal community, died Nov. 11.

Amber M. Racine, an attorney with the Center City law firm, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, who was respected for her civic contributions as well as her legal work, died Nov. 11.
Amber M. Racine, an attorney with the Center City law firm, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, who was respected for her civic contributions as well as her legal work, died Nov. 11.Read moreCourtesy of Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer law firm

Amber M. Racine, 38, of Philadelphia, a lawyer described as a “rising star” and a leader in her profession, died Wednesday, Nov. 11, at Abington Hospital, Jefferson Health. The cause of her death was unavailable.

Ms. Racine, who lived in East Mount Airy, was a litigator with Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, a personal injury law firm in Center City. She represented clients injured by defective products, unsafe workplaces, and medical mistakes.

“We are devastated and heartbroken by the passing of our beloved colleague and dear friend,” Stephen E. Raynes, founder of the firm, said in a statement soon after her death. “Amber was a gifted trial lawyer and an indomitable force for good, change, and kindness. The outpouring over the last few days is a true testament to how deeply she touched so many.”

Ms. Racine was immediate past chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors in 2019 and was president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, an organization of Black attorneys, in 2013 and 2014. In the latter role, she made it a point to help open the legal profession to people of color.

In an interview with Drexel’s Ask Magazine last year, Ms. Racine talked about one of the Barristers’ programs: “We go into schools to talk to minority students, often Black and Hispanic, about careers in law.”

As a board member of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, she also made it a point to represent pro bono those who couldn’t afford a lawyer.

“Amber Racine was more than a brilliant lawyer," Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said in a statement. “She was committed to the idea that communities of color need and deserve quality legal representation.”

Born in 1981 in New York City, she grew up in Harlem with her mother, Juliana Cedeno, and a brother. She graduated from Drexel University in 2004 with a double major in history and politics.

She chose Drexel because of its co-op program and got her first experience working for a personal injury law firm as a paralegal while studying there. She graduated from Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2008.

After a stint with another law firm, she joined Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer in 2012. Lawyer Bernard Smalley, her mentor who joined her there about five years ago, said he recognized early on that she had a certain “spark” that would make her a good trial lawyer.

“There’s a level of humanity that goes through what we do when we’re involved in complex personal injury cases, when you’re dealing with an individual who has lost a child, or a husband who is now a paraplegic because of an accident,” he said. “You meet them at their lowest point, and there is a level of compassion that goes with that.”

Ms. Racine was particularly compassionate with clients, Smalley said.

She was rated a “Rising Star,” by Super Lawyers magazine each year since 2012. The Legal Intelligencer named her a “Lawyer on the Fast Track” in 2011, and in 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed her to the Pennsylvania Judicial Advisory Commission to advise on state appellate judicial appointments.

Regina M. Foley, her colleague at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, said many in the Philadelphia legal community are devastated by her loss: “Her career was going to keep skyrocketing," said Foley.

“At work, she offered me brilliant strategy, passionate advocacy, and diligent work; in life, she offered me honest insight, unwavering support, and witty conversation. She had strength and wisdom beyond her years,” Foley said.

In 2018, the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Bar Association’s Women Lawyers Division honored Ms. Racine with the Doris May Harris Image Award for mentoring young women attorneys and law students.

That same year, the Philadelphia Bar Association Young Lawyers Division gave her the F. Sean Peretta Service Award to recognize her community service.

And in 2013, she was named one of Philadelphia’s Most Influential African Americans by the Philadelphia Tribune.

In addition to her mother, Ms. Racine is survived by a brother and a niece and nephew.

Services were Wednesday.

Donations may be made to the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia Inc., Scholarship Fund & Education Forum, 1735 Market St., Suite A234, Philadelphia, Pa 19103.