Thomas Brown, Partner at Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP, has watched the Legal Clinic for the Disabled grow from one attorney’s vision to a robust organization with attorneys at seven sites across Philadelphia.
Brown, who was the Chairman of the Young Lawyers Division of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in the early 1980s, was initially approached by Jim Ferriman, at the time Chairman of the Board of Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. Ferriman, an attorney, had recently visited The Chicago Rehabilitation Hospital where he saw a sign for the Legal Clinic for the Disabled. For Ferriman, the need in Philadelphia was clear and the connection to Magee was natural.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, Ferriman approached Brown about the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division creating a legal clinic for people with disabilities at Magee. Brown in turn approached Andy Susko, former Chairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section to complete the partnership. It took over two years but eventually the clinic became a reality.
“The Legal Clinic was pre-Americans with Disabilities Act,” explains Brown. “Fundraising was hard for organizations that dealt with disabilities. It was not a topic that people easily talked about or supported. We were also still waiting to be approved for nonprofit status, relying on the Bar Association for support. We had a build it and they will come mentality.”
The next big step was hiring Executive Director Mary Keane. Keane came on board with no promise of being paid since funds were still slim. With an Executive Director in place and nonprofit status established, the Legal Clinic for the Disabled opened its doors at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in 1990. Magee provided office space, phones and client referrals. From Day 1 until now, Magee’s support was critical.
Being only the second legal clinic in the country servicing the disability community was not easy. It was a “slow, deliberate slog” as Brown recalls. But the need was clear. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act had yet to be passed, people with disabilities that needed legal aid could not physically get to lawyers. Most buildings and offices were not accessible. And for nearly two decades, the sole attorneys working with clients were the Executive Director and volunteer attorneys from the Philadelphia Bar Association.
LCD has come a long way since the early days. Starting in 2011, LCD expanded its reach by opening Medical Legal Partnerships (MLP) with other healthcare organizations. Now, with seven attorneys and five MLPs over seven sites, as well as two community legal outreach clinics, LCD serves thousands yearly.
“We struggled for a long time and there were a lot of battles early on,” recalls Brown. “But LCD’s reputation speaks for itself. The organization provides services and has given a voice and access to the disability community of Philadelphia that would not exist otherwise.”