With bar association membership down nationwide, incoming Philadelphia bar chancellor Rudy Garcia plans to announce initiatives to entice lawyers to join the oldest bar group in the country when he makes his inaugural address Tuesday.
Garcia, who will give the speech at the city bar association annual luncheon and meeting, says the association will bolster initiatives aimed at finding work for unemployed lawyers, notably a series of programs to assist downsized lawyers going into private practice.
But he says the bar association also will launch a legal database of Pennsylvania case law and statutes available free to members, with the hope of getting more dues-paying lawyers.
"We cannot take our members for granted in this climate," said Garcia, a commercial litigator with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney P.C., a Pittsburgh firm with a 60-lawyer office in Philadelphia. "We need to make sure we are earning our dues money and then some."
The problem for the Philadelphia Bar Association and similar lawyers' groups across the country is that industry downsizing has cut into or slowed the flow of new memberships and renewals.
Membership in the Philadelphia bar, which was about 13,000 last year, is down several hundred, Garcia said. He said about 80 percent of the city's lawyers are members.
In many instances, membership fees, which can reach as high as $383 per year for lawyers in private practice in Philadelphia, often are paid by firms. But of course firms no longer make those payments for lawyers they have let go.
Garcia, 59, says the centerpiece of the membership drive will be the new legal database, offered as a free service to firms with 100 percent membership. The bar association projects that of the 25 largest firms in Philadelphia, each will be able to save at least $35,000 a year on top of new membership costs by using the service in place of other commercial legal databases.
The bar association, founded in 1802 as the Law Library Company of Philadelphia, which provided legal texts to local lawyers, also will look at restructuring membership fees, including the possibility of offering a flat rate to firms for all their lawyers.
Garcia said the focus on membership at the $4.5-million-a-year association was not driven by the need for dues. Those fees in fact have become less important as revenue from other sources has increased, notably advertising and joint marketing ventures, Garcia said.
Because there are so many lawyers in Philadelphia, and because their economic impact is large, the bar traditionally has had huge influence in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The key to maintaining that influence, Garcia said, is ensuring that membership levels remain robust.
"The city understands that lawyers have . . . a very significant portion of the office space, and we pay a big portion of the taxes and keep business flowing," Garcia said.
The man who will soon step to the head of the region's most prominent professional group for lawyers is a top commercial litigator who worked his way through Temple University Law School and Temple's undergraduate program in a series of minimum-wage jobs including candy-factory worker, painter, and plumber.
His focus is on antitrust, banking, securities, and other areas.
"As long as it is big and complicated, I am happy," he said of the type of matters he handles.
Garcia's first job after law school was with a small firm, so he did not have to wait in line to get trial experience.
Because of that early experience, he got even more trial work when he joined Saul Ewing L.L.P. a few years later. He and a group of other Saul Ewing lawyers moved to Buchanan five years ago.
Garcia lives in Wynnewood with his wife; the couple has a 25-year-old son who lives in Brooklyn. Garcia spends most of his time on his practice and on bar-association activities. But to unwind, Garcia, who describes himself as a "techie," enjoys computer programming, building websites, and other deep dives into the digital world.
"It takes my mind off all the other things to get into a zone and create some programming," he said.