A Global Conversation with Chancellor Lauren McKenna of the Philadelphia Bar Association

By Will Becker

Lauren McKenna was instated as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in December of last year. She is a Partner in the Litigation Department at Fox Rothschild and serves as Co-Chair of the Title Insurance Practice Group. She is also Co-Chair of the Women’s Initiative, which offers assistance with marketing and networking, mentoring, and work and life balance as well as invests resources into the recruitment and career development of women attorneys. GPA recently had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. McKenna regarding her role as Chancellor and upcoming initiatives of the Bar Association.  

Will Becker: A belated congratulations on the Chancellorship! I attended the recent Summer Quarterly and was very taken by the Bar’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).  Do you have any goals or initiatives you are looking to see from the Bar Association under your leadership in particular, perhaps pertaining to the DEI goals expressed in the recent event?

Chancellor Lauren McKenna: The last 18 months have been really challenging for the city and the legal community, and the Association hasn't been immune from that by any means. We’re a trade association, but we're also a lot more than that. The thing that has been really apparent throughout all those challenges, is the importance of the work we do. We have always been the hub of Philadelphia's diverse legal community, so we have definitely focused on bringing together different groups to share resources and perspectives – and that includes a program like our summer quarterly program.  

WB: Could you tell me a little about the Women's Initiative at Fox Rothschild, and if you see any new opportunities occurring with your new position Chancellor? 

CLM: I've been a partner at Fox for over 30 years, and I've been involved in our women's initiatives since its inception. Our women's initiative is focused specifically on promoting and advancing women by giving them leadership and advancement opportunities and the opportunity to network effectively. Our women's initiative at Fox is one of the things that our firm does focusing on DEI, but we also have a separate Diversity Committee as well, and that's focused on more specific diversity issues. 

The Women's Initiative works hand in hand with other things that the firm is doing to promote and advance diversity within our firm. As a woman attorney, it has always been very important to me that other women attorneys have the opportunity to advance and progress in their careers at the firm. 

WB: There are clearly a number of varying takes on DEI with regard to law in our city. Does the Bar Association's Diversity Committee (or the Bar Association as a whole), have any particular goals on seeing to successful DEI initiatives in Philadelphia Law Firms?

CLM: We do have a Diversity In The Profession Committee, but we have many others. We're very deep in terms of committees and structures to attend to certain issues,  so we have other committees that also serve that purpose. That includes our Women's Rights Committee and our Women In the Profession Committee among others - we touch on diversity issues in many different ways within our association so it's not really just limited to a specific committee. 

Our CLE director, Tara Phoenix, works on identifying topics for our [CLE] programs. Our initiatives are not really all housed in one place. It's woven through the mission of the Bar Association and what we do – there are many different angles that we come at this and we are proud of that.  

WB: Could you expand upon the task force on legal needs arising from the pandemic to interface with the courts, law firm members, law schools, and the business community, and what we might see from it now that some are saying the pandemic is ‘ending’?

CLM: Our whole thought process around a true Task Force has changed as the needs have changed over the past six months. 

We knew we needed to do something from the standpoint of interfacing with the court system, for example. So, in that instance, we have two particular sections: the Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and the State Civil Section. These both work closely with the Philadelphia Court on reopening plans and communicating new policies to our members and all Philadelphia lawyers in different areas of practice. We also have a Municipal Court Committee that works very closely with our Municipal Court on many of those same issues. We've been pretty fluid in terms of how we do this, as opposed to having a true formalized Task Force.  

We've had to pivot a bit and focus on things that are in the moment. For example, we had a Spring Quarterly program where we had a discussion with a human resources expert from The Wharton School about best practices for return to work. We also had leadership from various law firms, as well as the Public Interest Law Center, on that panel to talk about how they were handling the development of different policies and their implementation. 

Earlier this year, we did work around vaccination accessibility for attorneys and all of the issues that surround working remotely. I'm happy to say we've been doing it really within our existing structure as an organization, and we work closely with our sections and committees to do that. 

WB: The Philadelphia Bar Association has a Real Property Section with many initiatives. Do you see any possible issues that might come to the Bar Association with the end of the eviction moratorium?

CLM: We're working on that as we speak. We work closely with our affiliated relationships we have, so for example we strongly supported City Council’s passage of legislation creating the Right To Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in 2019. We had a groundbreaking report in 2018 called the Stout Report that supported this concept that finding counsel for eligible low-income tenants was the right thing to do. 

We've also been outspoken in our support of the city’s Eviction Diversion program. We currently partner with Good Shepherd Mediation to hold CLE programs to train volunteer mediators for that initiative. 

We've also been working closely with the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project and we collaborate routinely with six agencies in particular, including Community Legal Services, Senior Law Center, Legal Clinic for the Disabled – all of which provide free legal representation for low-income Philadelphians. 

So we're working as we speak, with respect to the diversion program and the question you're asking is one that is sort of changing day to day in the city. We're going to continue to do that, and we recognize the importance of our role in providing a voice to help the process.