Global Conversations With: William Fedullo, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- When William Fedullo was young, he remembers wanting to be a center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. Eventually, he realized that he might need a back-up plan.

Besides baseball, Fedullo had enjoyed movies and television shows having to do with lawyers and felt that as a lawyer, he could change a lot of things that would not otherwise be changed. Fedullo now practices in the areas of medical malpractice, products liability, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), insurance bad faith, construction accidents, vehicle accidents and other areas of personal injury.

This past January, Fedullo, who is a member of Global Philadelphia’s Board of Directors, became the 87th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. Next week, Fedullo and the Bar Association will take part in the World City Bar Leaders Conference, an international conference welcoming leaders of metropolitan bar associations around the world.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

I remember “To Kill A Mockingbird” and a few other movies like that, which were pretty inspiring. I think that played a role in me wanting to do it. I remember in fifth grade we had a debate team and I won. My teacher told me that I would be a good lawyer one day. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant at the time but eventually I thought about it seriously, so that was inspiration a little bit.

How difficult is it to enter a career in the law?

When I came out there seemed to be a lot more jobs. I came out of Widener Law School in ‘76 and it seemed to me at that time that if you really wanted to get a job you could. I think that since the 2008 recession it has been different. Young lawyers coming out of law school now find it much more difficult to find an area of practice, or for that matter just to find a job.

I think it’s rebounding a bit. There are more jobs incrementally it seems, but it’s still the number one concern when you’re a lawyer coming out of law school, to get a job that you’re satisfied in doing but it’s not impossible. I think if you’re dedicated and stay with it you’ll find a job. It’s just a matter of really dedicating yourself to that. It is more difficult today than when I came out of law school.

What stands out as a significant moment in your career?

In the year that my son was born, 1993, we had I think the largest reported verdict for a FELA hearing loss case at $300,000. It was kind of a neat day because when I went home, I think my son was about two or three months old, and I got a nice verdict on a tough case. The jury came back with a substantial verdict at that time and I came home early. I was able to take my son out of his crib and just hold him for a few hours to contemplate what a sweet day that was. That day was pretty memorable, more for holding my son than for the verdict.

How did you get involved in the Philadelphia Bar Association?

When I became a lawyer my first job was with Judge Muecke, who was the administrative judge at the time for the common pleas court. He really believed that you could give back as a professional. I think it was probably his inspiration that got me involved in the Bar Association at an early date. I think I was probably a member right away because I remember doing luncheons and things like that very early in my career.

One of the things that we’re trying to do this year is to expand outreach to law students at Temple, Villanova, Widener and Rutgers University to join because we do think we have the best Bar Association in the country. We became the Bar Association in 1802, so we believe we’re the oldest Bar Association in America. I think we see issues sometime before other organizations do and it’s really the place to be. If you join the Bar Association you’ll get terrific value for the money you spend and you’ll get friendships with people that you might not have met otherwise.

Can you tell me about your position as Chancellor for the Philadelphia Bar Association?

As Chancellor, I’m a spokesperson for the 13,000 members of the Bar Association. We get to do a lot of speaking, we get to do a lot advocacy and we set an agenda for each year. This year my agenda was in large part about the school crisis and what we’ve tried to do is advocate for a dedicated source of funding on behalf of the School District of Philadelphia. For that matter, we’re advocating for school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because I think some of them are vastly underfunded.

We looked at this year as the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education and I was struck by the fact that we hadn’t come all that far in a decision for full funding for all of our citizens in all of our schools. I think that is something that we really need to work harder on. I also asked the firms in the city to sponsor a school, financially and in other ways. Provide them with jobs, provide them with opportunities and counseling and provide them with the reassurance that we care about the teachers and students as people and that we love them. I think they need to hear that and it’s not emphasized enough.

If a student knows that the business community, especially the legal community, cares about them, it makes a difference in their lives. We’re trying really hard to make that a reality this year.

Why do you think it’s important to not only help students in the Philadelphia School District, but to help young lawyers as well?

We’re not doing them a service if they’re following all the rules, which is to go to school and get good marks and then go to law school and get good marks and then become a lawyer, only to find that there isn’t a job out there for them. As a Bar Association, we believe in this country of opportunity that we have to make sure the opportunities are there to the extent that we can.

We really want to make sure that young kids understand what they need to do to get a job, what the process is about. A lot of kids in law school today are a little insular; they don’t understand the importance of one-on-one relationships and speaking to people on a personal basis. We need to make them understand.

Could you talk about the Bar Association's plans to host international representatives at the World Leaders Conference?

We have a pretty good selection of people coming from around the world to Philadelphia next week to discuss law and the international aspects of law.

It’s a group of lawyers from major cities around the world and I think we have 17 cities represented. They are coming to Philadelphia from Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, London, Barcelona, Shanghai, Tokyo, South Africa and a few other world capitals.

What is your advice for those students who are chasing a career in law?

You have to love it, you have to really love what you are doing. You have to understand that sometimes it’s not a nine to five job, it’s often a job where you’re going to take work home or you’re going to work on the weekends. You really need to be dedicated to the practice of law. If you’re going to have the kind of practice that I have, you’re going to have to like people. You’re going to have to be empathetic because you’ll deal with people who have been through some struggles. They’re not there because their life is wonderful, they’re there with you because something bad has happened in their life.

Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal.