Gaetan Alfano, a name partner in a Center City law firm known nationally for its work in commercial litigation and whistleblower lawsuits, is scheduled to make his inaugural address as chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association Tuesday amid concern over the group's flat membership and complaints it has lost relevance.
A member of the firm of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti LLP, Alfano argued strenuously in a recent interview the association remains critical to the lives of lawyers in Philadelphia, and points to initiatives such as efforts to block a proposed sales tax on professional services under consideration in Harrisburg.
He said some of the city's lawyers complain the bar association has too little effect on their professional lives, but he chalked that up to widespread disaffection with professional associations generally following the 2008 recession.
Fees in particular have come under scrutiny.
The bar association's membership stood at around 13,000 before the recession, and dropped about 7 percent to just over 12,000 over the ensuing years, where it remains.
Although the association discounts dues for young lawyers and others, the dues for experienced attorneys typically are $383 a year.
"A lot of professional associations, particularly after the recession are in situations where there members are saying, what is this group, what is this association doing for me and how are they providing value," Alfano said. "And it is not just bar associations."
Alfano said the bar association's advocacy on behalf of members goes well beyond economic issues like the proposed tax on professional services, to include judicial ratings and other initiatives aimed at maintaining professional standards and strategies aimed at making the entire legal system function better.
Toward that end, he said he will push this year for legislation bolstering legal services for impoverished persons needing help in civil matters known as civil Gideon, a name drawn from the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision in Wainwright vs. Gideon establishing the right of poor defendants to court-appointed counsel in criminal cases.
Alfano and other advocates of civil Gideon want assistance for the poor in civil matters such as home evictions, establishing title to a home, mortgage foreclosures and other matters.
Alfano began his career as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and was a member of the law enforcement team that prosecuted mob boss Raymond "Long John" Martorano in the slaying of roofers' union head John McCullough.
Alfano tried hundreds of cases in the district attorney's office, excellent preparation for his ensuing career as a commercial litigator, he said.
At his firm, he's known as hardworking and extremely focused.
"He's a lawyer's lawyer," his partner, Marc Raspanti, said.
Alfano, 60, lives in Wallingford with his wife of 32 years, Kathy, who is also an attorney.
Alfano said he wants to push back against the idea the Pennsylvania judiciary, given recent scandals, is rife with corruption. The vast majority of judges in the system are high caliber and devoted to the legal profession, he said.
He fully expects his bar association duties will form an overflowing agenda. He recounted a recent series of meetings helping a member renew his malpractice insurance, after it had been incorrectly cancelled by a broker, sitting down with the association's big law firm committee, and discussions involving a possible revamping of the association bylaws, which he said is long overdue.