More than 75 students, faculty, staff and others attended PhilaU’s first Law and Service Day Nov. 8 to hear prominent speakers address such topical issues as homeland security, the death penalty, women’s rights, medicinal marijuana and same-sex marriage.
Hosted by the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service, the day was capped by a talk on how civil litigation can help bring about positive social change. Attorney Shanin Specter, son of the late Sen. Arlen Specter, discussed some of his cases that resulted not only in financial awards for his clients but led to broader changes that benefitted many more people.
For instance, a lawsuit brought on behalf of a man killed by a speeding police car ended up providing evidence of a much broader problem of Philadelphia police officers recklessly speeding through city streets, often with little or no ramifications for officers if people were injured or property damaged.
Ultimately, the damaging evidence Specter’s team came up with resulted not only in compensation for his client, he said, but also led to “a rash of changes in the way officers operate their vehicles.” He cited other examples of lawsuits that resulted in improved public safety for autos and power lines.
While helping people through the practice of law has been rewarding for him, Specter advised students to consider what they like and what they are good at in planning their careers.
For the students, many of them law and society majors, it was an opportunity to hear about different careers in the legal field and make contacts for possible internships and jobs. Students majoring in architecture, fashion merchandising and management, fashion design, business, biology and graphic design also attended the sessions.
“We wanted to bring different majors together to learn about and discuss national issues,” said Marissa Pembroke, a junior law and society student who helped organize the event.
The threat of global terrorism was addressed by Thomas Minton, director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, who talked about his role in developing strategies to prepare for and mitigate both physical and cyber-attacks. His office also helps educate Pennsylvanians on how to best protect themselves, their businesses and their cyber existences from such attacks.
Previously, Minton worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and helped investigate such attacks as the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, representing the 17th district, spoke about pending state legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana use, which he said would generate tax revenue, provide alternative treatments for those suffering from serious illnesses and allow police to focus on more serious crimes. Marijuana, Leach said, causes no more harm than alcohol and, unlike that substance, is not additive.
“All we’re asking for is a rational policy,” Leach said, noting that the “average pot smoker doesn’t look like Jimi Hendrix anymore, he looks more like Dick Cheney.”
Other speakers included D. Bruce Hanes, a Montgomery County Register of Wills and adjunct faculty member, who signed the first same-sex marriage license in the Commonwealth; David Richman of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which helps those who may be wrongly convicted; and Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, who spoke on protecting women’s rights.
“This event brought together a diverse group of powerful influencers of public policy for students to meet and question,” said Evan Laine, law and society program director and faculty director of the Arlen Specter Center. Based on its success this year, Laine said he expects Law and Service Day to be an annual event.