Celebrate Our Honorees Working Toward Justice for All

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is thrilled to announce the winners of its two annual awards, representing the best in legal services for those struggling with poverty, abuse and discrimination. This year marks the thirteenth anniversary of the Pro Bono Award and the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award (formerly associated with the Apothaker Award). Both of these awards will be officially presented at the Annual Benefit of the Bar Foundation on Saturday evening, November 5, 2016 at the Independence Seaport Museum featuring The Big House Band and Catering by Design


Marsha I. Cohen, Esq., Executive Director, Homeless Advocacy Project

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award, originally established by the Apothaker family to honor Louis D. Apothaker, recognizes a public interest attorney who is dedicating his or her life to equal access to justice by working in the nonprofit legal services field.  The award acknowledges exceptional leadership, dedication and accomplishment, and is accompanied by a $2,500 prize.

Marsha Cohen was selected to receive the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award because, under her leadership for the last 18 years, the Homeless Advocacy Project has become a local and national model of excellence in legal aid, making a huge impact in the Philadelphia region, statewide, and across the country.  Here are just a few of the many statements offered in support of Marsha’s winning award nomination:

“Under Marsha’s tenure, HAP’s annual operating budget has grown from $200,000 to $1.5 million and its staff has increased from 4 to 12.  In 1997, HAP served approximately 500 clients.  By 2015, that number increased eight-fold to 4,000 clients.”  Joseph Sullivan, Esq., Pepper Hamilton LLP

“Her leadership of HAP has guided the agency to prominence in our local community on both direct service issues and the challenging work of public policy reform for the homeless and needy.”  Frank Cervone, Support Center for Child Advocates

“Marsha relates to HAP’s clients as easily as she does to lawyers and other HAP volunteers.  . . . Her devotion is significant, contagious and real.  She has fostered real change in our community in how the homeless are perceived and treated, and as a result has improved the lives of so many men, women, and children who otherwise had been on the margins of society.”  Matthew Gutt, Exelon


Peter (“Tad”) H. LeVan, Jr., Esq., LeVan Law Group LLC

The Pro Bono Award of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is given annually to a Philadelphia law firm or corporate legal department that performs outstanding volunteer efforts in providing legal services to those in need.  The award recipient demonstrates commitment to the development and delivery of pro bono legal services in the region and contributes significantly to innovative approaches to the delivery of volunteer legal services.

Tad LeVan was selected to receive the Pro Bono Award of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation because of his extraordinary commitment over 15 years to pursuing a pro bono case that mushroomed into a massive, precedent-setting constitutional victory benefiting tens of thousands of disadvantaged Pennsylvanians. Such hard work and success compelled Tad’s selection as this year’s award winner:

In 2000, as a young associate at a large Philadelphia law firm, a file was handed to Tad LeVan.  That case – pursuing a single desired outcome – ended up becoming two lawsuits (both before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and one that ended up at the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania), following him through three law firms, fifteen years, and over $250,000 of donated professional time.  As a result, the lives of thousands of people in Pennsylvania will be changed for the better.

Prior to Tad’s work, Pennsylvania’s Older Adults Protective Services Act prohibited anyone who had been convicted of any disqualifying crime at any time in his or her life from holding any employment position at any residential care facility within the state – regardless of the nature of the crime, the date of the conviction, the rehabilitative efforts in which the individual engaged, or the specific job responsibilities of the employment position.  In Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Peake v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tad successfully challenged the constitutionality of the law, eventually resulting in a unanimous decision of the en banc Commonwealth Court declaring OAPSA to be unconstitutional on its face and enjoining the Commonwealth from further enforcement of the law.

As Tad himself has said, “So be prepared the next time a potential pro bono matter comes across your desk: You not only have the opportunity to help someone in need, but you never know the adventure or impact that awaits.”  

In announcing these awards, Steven Bizar, Esq., Foundation President and Partner at Dechert LLP stated, “These important and prestigious honors are a proud part of the legal community’s commitment to promoting access to justice, as embodied by the mission of the Foundation and its work in support of legal assistance.”

“Together, the Foundation’s awards bring important recognition to the amazing pro bono and public interest legal aid work being done in our community, work that is at the core of our profession,” said Nilam Sanghvi, Esq., Chair of the Foundation’s Awards and Programs Committee and Senior Staff Attorney, Pennsylvania Innocence Project.      

Plan to join us at the Annual Benefit on Saturday, November 5 to honor our highly deserving award recipients, hear their personal challenge for the rest of us to live up to their examples and fight for equal access to justice.