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VIP in Action Published October 23, 2020

Awards Night 2020

Thanks to all who joined us on September 17, 2020 for VIP’s first virtual Awards Night. We had a blast! This year’s event included a rousing celebration of the 2020 award winners and finalists, powerful testimony from VIP volunteers, trivia about the team, and spirited conversation from more than 130 attendees in the live chat.

Thanks to VIP’s extraordinary supporters, and with the help of Stewart Eisenberg’s generous match challenge, our team raised $63,618 by the end of the night. We are thrilled to put each and every dollar donated towards expanding access to justice.

VIP is deeply grateful to all who made the night a resounding success. Congratulations to Michael van der Veen and Patricia Santelle, the winners of VIP’s 2020 auction and raffle who earned naming rights to the VIP Resource Library and VIP’s beloved kitchen. We would also like to offer huge congratulations to VIP’s 2020 award finalists and winners; your dedication to serving our community is inspiring.

Scroll down to read more about our finalists and winners, event sponsors, and a message from our board.

Clips from the Event

Thanks to all volunteers who participated and shared insights into VIP’s work! Check out these testimonials from volunteers and staff that we shared during the event.

MVP of VIP Award Finalists

The MVP of VIP is the volunteer attorney who carried the heaviest load for Philadelphia VIP in a one-year period. We analyze data, solicit input from staff, and consider the complexity of individual cases to decide on these finalists.

 

Roderick L. Foxworth, Jr.

Finalist

When VIP reaches out to Roderick L. Foxworth, Jr. with an urgent case, he doesn’t hesitate. On the contrary, he buckles down and digs in. Since taking his first VIP case in May 2019, he has kept up an impressive pace and defended twelve clients in debt collection proceedings. Roderick has earned his reputation in the VIP community as a Very Important Person who is diligent in his work and gets great outcomes for his VIP clients.

 

Daniel J. Devlin

Finalist

Daniel J. Devlin does not back down from a challenge. Since first connecting with VIP in 2017, he has represented eleven clients in matters ranging from child custody to nonprofit governance and has championed pro bono work in his firm. His extensive knowledge and strong work ethic make him a trusted member of the VIP community and a model volunteer for his fellow attorneys. Regardless of the type of case, VIP can count on Daniel to step up and guide his clients with passion and commitment.

 

 

Sierra Applegate

Winner

Sierra Applegate is a VIP all-star. Inspired in part by the estate planning cases she handled as a VIP legal intern, Sierra clerked in Orphans’ Court after graduating from law school. Once she settled into her job there, she returned to VIP as a volunteer attorney. In her first year as a volunteer, she accepted four landlord-tenant matters, and in her first court appearances as a full-fledged attorney, she represented tenants on the brink of losing their housing. Sierra has continued her volunteer work since moving to the Trusts & Estates Group at Kleinbard LLC, and was recently recognized as VIP’s Volunteer of the Month for her tenacity in pro bono service. As she has risen from intern to volunteer to mentor, Sierra has always proven ready to fight for her clients and never say no to a challenge.

 

Trailblazing Partner Award Finalists

With the Trailblazing Partner Award, we aim to honor a law firm, corporation, or other organization that has significantly deepened its commitment to VIP over the past two years.

 

Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Winner

The volunteers at Greenberg Traurig, LLP are nothing less than heroes. After inviting VIP to their offices for a recruitment event in July 2019, the GT crew leapt into action and accepted eight pro bono cases. Since then, these intrepid volunteers have pushed for the best results for their clients, made headway in difficult cases, and even opened new pro bono cases for some clients when they spotted separate legal issues. The team of nine attorneys has made a considerable positive impact on clients facing a range of issues: the firm’s attorneys accepted five tangled title cases, four eviction defense cases, two name change cases, and more. On top of this, the firm generously hosted a small business clinic for ten attorneys. VIP is grateful for and inspired by its deepened relationship with Greenberg Traurig.

 

 

Morgan & Akins, PLLC

Finalist

Morgan & Akins, PLLC has quadrupled their engagement with VIP since 2016, and the pandemic has not slowed them down. In the first half of 2020 alone, the firm’s attorneys accepted seven estate planning cases—a service that has become even more necessary as COVID-19 threatens many of VIP’s clients. The firm’s commitment to providing this necessary service shows their deep resolve to meet the community’s legal needs, and is exemplified by their attorneys’ willingness even to hand-deliver documents to their clients during the pandemic. Thanks to the team’s strong commitment to service, VIP can always count on Morgan & Akins’ attorneys to say “yes!” to a pro bono case.

 

 

Blank Rome LLP

Finalist

Blank Rome LLP, already a reliable partner to VIP and its clients, has made especially valiant efforts for VIP’s nonprofit and small business community in the past year. Since 2019, the firm has accepted a staggering thirty pro bono cases to help VIP’s corporate clients. In the wake of COVID-19, as businesses and nonprofits faced unprecedented economic struggles, Blank Rome stepped up to the plate by enlisting eleven volunteers to provide critical counsel and advice in VIP’s new virtual consultation program. Thanks to Blank Rome, VIP is able to give more business owners and nonprofit leaders peace of mind in times when peace is hard to come by.

Pro Bono Impact Award

VIP presents this award to a champion of pro bono who has distinguished themselves with VIP over the past two years based on commitment to clients, excellence in recruiting volunteers, or innovative approaches to advocacy.

 

Sarah R. Katz

Winner

This year, VIP happily honors Sarah R. Katz, Esq. with the Pro Bono Impact Award.

Over the course of Sarah’s relationship with VIP, Temple University’s Family Law Litigation Clinic, which she heads, has represented seventy-three VIP clients. But beyond the important work of this clinic, Sarah’s personal help and expertise is indispensable to VIP. She not only mentors fellow VIP volunteers; she also serves as a trainer at VIP events, and she is a continuous fount of information and support for VIP.

Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Awards

Named for a Supreme Court Justice who recognized the integral role of pro bono work in any attorney’s legal practice, these awards honor VIP’s outstanding partners in four categories: solo practitioner, small firm, medium or large firm, and corporation.

VIP selects nominees based on data analysis of pro bono work in a one-year period. The award winners are those entities or attorneys who have shown the largest increase in engagement with VIP, in terms of percentage, in the one-year period.

Brennan Award Finalists: Solo

 

Sean P. Mays

Finalist

Sean P. Mays, founder of the Mays Law Firm LLC and longtime supporter of VIP, greatly enhanced his commitment to pro bono in the past year. He accepted multiple collections cases throughout the year, all on behalf of the same client: whenever new issues arose, Sean kept saying “yes!” Thanks to his tireless work, this client benefited from representation in numerous Municipal Court proceedings and an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. And when out-of-pocket court costs came up, Sean matter-of-factly told VIP his firm had them covered. Sean’s direct and calm approach over the past year yielded greater service than the client ever could have imagined, and is a remarkable testament to Sean’s commitment to VIP.

 

Matthew S. Hagarty

Finalist

The Law Office of Matthew S. Hagarty has been a steadfast partner and resource for Philadelphia VIP. Since he first volunteered with VIP in 2015, Matthew Hagarty has represented clients in high-stakes auto accident suits and debt collection proceedings. His work on the latter is noteworthy, especially in the past year, because he is willing to accept urgent collections cases with little notice. When VIP’s clients are facing some of the thorniest financial situations of their lives, Matthew is there, ready to represent and defend. His courtroom presence and tireless advocacy for low-income Philadelphians make him a wonderful volunteer and partner to VIP.

 

Maria Corpora

Winner

Maria Corpora of Corpora LLC has spent over a decade representing her Philadelphia neighbors through VIP. She showed no signs of slowing down in the past year; on the contrary, she quadrupled her caseload compared to the year before. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Maria has enthusiastically answered VIP’s call to represent clients in mortgage foreclosure proceedings, and in 2019, she demonstrated her holistic, caring approach to pro bono by reconnecting with a former mortgage foreclosure client and representing her in divorce and estate planning matters. VIP and the city as a whole are lucky to have compassionate volunteers like Maria on their side.

Brennan Award Finalists: Small Firm

 

Berner Klaw & Watson LLP

Winner

Berner Klaw & Watson LLP, a cornerstone of VIP’s Family Law Initiative, deepened their engagement with VIP last year. For years, VIP has relied on the firm’s stunning commitment to service as they provide representation, advice, and mentorship in over one hundred fifty family law matters. The firm’s attorneys and paralegals worked on over twenty such cases in the last year alone. As if this were not impressive enough, BKW’s paralegals often volunteer their services as notaries and travel to clients’ homes to support VIP volunteers and help us meet our clients’ needs. As VIP sees it, the Berner Klaw & Watson team’s commitment to pro bono permeates everything they do.

 

van der Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn, and Levin

Finalist

The attorneys at van der Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn, and Levin have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to pro bono work with VIP. Six of their attorneys (including Daniel J. Devlin, nominee for this year’s MVP of VIP Award) have said “yes!” to a combined total of thirty VIP clients over the last several years. The firm’s attorneys have taken on a wide range of legal matters and have used their expertise to positively impact clients’ lives. With such an outstanding record with VIP, it is clear that pro bono work is more than passing commitment, and is instead a core part of their values as a firm.

 

Rocco Law

Finalist

While Rocco Law has long been a go-to source of information and guidance for VIP’s family law team, the firm stood out in the last year as it tripled its pro bono caseload. This small firm has been especially supportive of VIP’s efforts to provide advice to low-income family law clients who do not qualify for full representation. The firm’s willingness to accept such cases on short notice and deliver quality advice to VIP’s clients is noteworthy, as is its endless energy for pro bono work: since 2004, Rocco Law has worked on nearly sixty VIP cases, making it a dependable partner in VIP’s efforts to stabilize Philadelphia families through volunteerism.

Brennan Award Finalists: Medium/Large Firm

 

Ballard Spahr LLP

Winner

Time and again, and especially in the last year, Ballard Spahr LLP has risen to the challenge of providing pro bono services to Philadelphians. The firm has handled deed transfers, quiet title litigation, name changes, and more; but recently, they have stood out in their advocacy for VIP’s landlord-tenant work. Several months ago, the firm sent out a call to action when VIP was in need of more volunteers in this critical area. Ballard was also critical in testing and rolling out VIP’s Tenant Defense Team project in early 2020. As the housing crisis grows more dire, VIP is grateful for Ballard Spahr’s continued and deepened support.

 

Holland & Knight LLP

Finalist

The attorneys at Holland & Knight LLP have massively increased their engagement with VIP in the last year. Nine lawyers at the firm handled twelve cases, and represented clients in such diverse matters as estate planning, guardianship, name changes, and more. They especially stood out among their peers in their willingness to say “yes!” to some of VIP’s areas of highest need: eviction defense and custody. VIP is thankful for the dedicated team at Holland & Knight and excited to continue partnering with them.

 

Duane Morris LLP

Finalist

The past year was a memorable one in VIP’s long-standing relationship with Duane Morris LLP. Thirteen of the firm’s attorneys represented clients on a range of critical issues, including guardianship and auto accident defense. This fact would be noteworthy enough on its own, but the firm did not stop there. In November 2019, Duane Morris partnered with VIP to pilot a coordinated Divorce Clinic, the first of its kind, in which the firm’s volunteers fast-tracked six clients seeking divorces through on-the-spot interviews, drafted complaints and relevant documents, and subsequently filed said documentation. Through this and all the other service they have offered, the attorneys at Duane Morris have shown themselves to be exemplary volunteers.

Brennan Award Finalists: Corporation

 

The City of Philadelphia Law Department

Winner

The City of Philadelphia Law Department serves our neighbors not only through their everyday jobs, but also through pro bono service with VIP. Over the past year, the Department’s attorneys have impacted the lives of seven VIP clients by securing guardianship of incapacitated people, helping clients change their names, and representing parents in custody proceedings. The Department’s attorneys had a strong showing at VIP’s Nonprofit Legal Assessment Clinic last year, where they advised nonprofit organizations that strengthen our communities. As the Department’s volunteers continue to partner with VIP, they evidence an impressive commitment to making Philadelphia a more just city for all.

 

TE Connectivity

Finalist

The legal team at TE Connectivity, always dedicated partners in VIP’s mission, ramped up their commitment to pro bono in 2019 and 2020. At VIP’s Small Business Legal Assessment Clinics, TE volunteers provided counsel and advice to seven local business owners. But that didn’t sate their thirst for justice: they also volunteered at the June Tangled Title Intake Clinic in West Oak Lane, which VIP produced in partnership with Councilperson Cherrell Parker. There, TE volunteers spoke with six Philadelphians about their property issues, and two of these clients went on to receive full representation through VIP. It is clear that TE Connectivity is passionately determined to help our neighbors secure title to their homes.

 

Cigna

Finalist

In the last year, Cigna reaffirmed its commitment to serving Philadelphia through pro bono. The company’s legal department more than doubled the number of full-representation cases they accepted. On top of this, Cigna volunteers regularly participated in VIP’s Legal Assessment Clinics for the city’s nonprofits and small businesses. The results they achieved through their pro bono work speak for themselves: Cigna helped an elderly client secure assets for future generations through a will, represented a mother seeking guardianship over her disabled son, and guided a faith-based organization in implementing new bylaws. Cigna’s volunteers put their clients’ minds at ease as they navigated these difficult but necessary processes, a fact which demonstrates the corporation’s commitment to serving Philadelphia through pro bono representation.

Message from VIP’s Board President

Dear Philadelphia VIP community:

We always say that Philadelphia VIP’s clients need us now more than ever, and that has never been truer than in this moment of widespread upheaval and uncertainty. In the midst of unprecedented and convergent health, economic, and political crises, the vulnerable Philadelphians that we serve find themselves pushed ever closer to the brink.

The situation is urgent, but here’s the good news: you are rising to the occasion. The individual volunteers, firms, and other supporters being honored represent a community of citizens determined to help our neighbors in need. The stories we share of homes preserved, families kept together, bills paid and calamities averted, could not be told without the tireless efforts of those committed to advancing VIP’s 40-year mission of ensuring equal access to justice for all Philadelphians.

I have been involved with VIP since I became a lawyer more than a decade ago, as a volunteer and as a board member, and it has been the enduring highlight of my career. I am continually awed by the dedication of VIP’s staff, board, and most of all, our volunteers and community partners. So to all of you who have given so selflessly of your time, energy, and wealth, thank you for saying “yes!” to VIP.

Sincerely,

Alex F. Braden
President of the Board of Directors

Thank you to our sponsors

We couldn’t have put on this event — or indeed, carried out our critical work of expanding access to justice — without the financial support of these organizations. We are grateful for their contributions and excited to continue our partnership!

Aria Systems, Inc.
Ballard Spahr LLP
Baratta, Russell & Baratta
Blank Rome LLP
Chubb
Citrin Cooperman
City of Philadelphia
Cozen O’Connor
Duane Morris LLP
DLA Piper LLP
Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C.

Ernst & Young LLP
Exelon
FMC Corporation
Franklin Square Capital Partners, LLC
Gay & Chacker, P.C.
GlaxoSmithKline
Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, LLP
Holland & Knight, LLP
Lincoln Financial Foundation, Inc.

Microsoft Corporation
Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP
Oak Foundation
Patricia Kind Family Foundation
Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Board
Philadelphia Bar Association
Philadelphia Bar Foundation

TD Bank
TE Connectivity
The Mercadien Group
The Phildelphia Foundation
The Sandler Family Foundation
The Vanguard Group
Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation
van der Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn & Levin
Wells Fargo
WSFS Bank