Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP and lawyers’ response to the civil rights movement

August 10, 2023 – We recently learned that the Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis law firm will soon wind down its operations and dissolve itself after nearly 90 years. The firm played a critical role in the founding of the Law Center, and indeed in advancing civil rights through public interest lawyering across the country in response to the civil rights movement.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, William Schnader, a former PA Attorney General, wanted to join a firm with his mentee and deputy, Bernard Segal. However, because Segal was Jewish, no Philadelphia firm at that time would hire him. Schnader formed a new firm instead, founding Schnader & Lewis in 1934.

In 1963, Bernard Segal was head of Schnader and President of the American Bar Association. In the middle of southern violence in defense of Jim Crow racial segregation, President Kennedy—responding to calls by Segal and others—convened a meeting of 244 lawyers in the East Room of the White House, urging attorneys to join the struggle to protect civil rights. Segal responded by convening lawyers from around the country to volunteer to represent victims of racial discrimination and violence in the South, where lawyers routinely refused to represent them. This was the origination of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The person who did an enormous part of the work pulling the committee together was Schnader partner Jerome Shestack, who then became the first executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. Bernard Segal’s papers are held in Penn Law’s Biddle Law Archives.

Our organization was founded as the Philadelphia chapter of the Lawyers’ Committee in 1969, with early crucial support from Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. That has continued unabated to this day. David Smith, a partner at Schnader, is our longest serving board of directors member and a former Law Center board chair. David’s wise counsel and dedication to our work has been an important factor in our survival into our seventh decade.

The Schnader firm was a very early exemplar of pro bono service, and indeed the importance of lawyers contributing their time and financial assistance to advance civil and social rights, in recognition of their status as licensed members of the bar. Our organization has benefited mightily from the leadership it provided in Philadelphia and to the entire bar.