Gaetan Alfano, a name partner in a Center City law firm known nationally for its work in commercial litigation and whistle-blower lawsuits, is scheduled to make his inaugural address as chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association on Tuesday amid concern over the group's flat membership and complaints it has lost relevance.
Alfano, a member of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti L.L.P., argued in a recent interview that the association remains critical to the lives of lawyers in Philadelphia, and pointed 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 that the association has too little impact on their professional lives, but he chalked that up to widespread disaffection with professional associations in general 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.
The association discounts dues for young lawyers, among others; 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 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 legal system function better.
Toward that end, he said, he will push this year for legislation bolstering legal services for impoverished people needing help in civil matters known as "civil Gideon." The name is drawn from the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which established 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 as well, such as home evictions, establishing title to a home, and mortgage foreclosures.
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, which he said was excellent preparation for his career as a commercial litigator.
At his firm, he's known as hardworking and extremely focused.
"He's a lawyer's lawyer," partner Marc Raspanti said.
Alfano, 60, lives in Wallingford with his wife of 32 years, Kathy, who also is a lawyer.
Alfano said he wants to push back against the idea that the Pennsylvania judiciary, given recent scandals, is rife with corruption. The vast majority of judges are of high caliber and devoted to the legal profession, he said.
He fully expects his 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 canceled 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.