Alumni Profiles

Midge Rendell

Judge Marjorie O. Rendell

The Honorable Marjorie ("Midge") O. Rendell joined Duane Morris in 1973 as the Firm's 42nd lawyer. She departed in 1994 when she was nominated by President Clinton to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In 1997, she was elevated by President Clinton to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Judge Rendell served as the First Lady of Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2011, after serving as the First Lady of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2000. In this issue, Judge Rendell shares memories from her time at Duane Morris and later as a judge.

Q: What are your fondest memories of your years at Duane Morris?

A: I have many fond memories of Duane Morris. We worked hard, but we also had fun. One of the best things about the Firm was that the leaders of the Firm at the time were very much involved, even with the new associates. Morris Duane, Bill White and Maurice Heckscher, besides being exemplary lawyers, were also civic leaders and great examples for the young lawyers.

For example, we had fall outings at Buck Hill Falls, a rustic cabin resort in the Poconos, where we played golf and poker and held a traditional reading by Morris Duane of The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine. It was a unique bonding experience. The atmosphere of the Firm back then was warm, professional and concerned about the well-being of the individual lawyer. I remember one day in spring 1974 or '75, when we were still on the 16th floor of the Land Title Building, Morris Duane told everyone to stop working because we were going on an impromptu trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. It was also recommended that we take a month's vacation in the summer. One summer during my vacation in Ocean City, Roland Morris needed to get in touch with me and sent me a telegraph telling me to call him. I didn't have a telephone (if you can imagine that), and I ended up walking three blocks to use a payphone to call him. To encapsulate the atmosphere of the Firm in one anecdote, Morris Duane would walk the halls and ask if we were "having fun"!

In light of my longstanding relationships with the Firm, I continue to recuse myself from Duane Morris cases. Even though it's been 21 years since I left, I still have many friends there, and a number of my former law clerks are now partners or associates at the Firm.

Midge Rendell

During a team-building exercise, then Vice-Chair Tom Hyndman, Midge Rendell (second left), Gene and Bob Pratter and Vince Garrity showcased their talents in a skit branding the Firm as "Duano," complete with a song to the tune of the popular Alka-Seltzer commercial: Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Duano's in the legal biz … oh, what a relief it is! (Tom went on to serve as Chairman of the Firm throughout the 1980s, Midge and Gene are now Federal Judges, Bob went on to become acting Insurance Commissioner and Executive Deputy General Counsel of Pennsylvania, and Vince served as the Firm"s Corporate Practice Co-Chair for a decade.)

Q: You were at Duane Morris at a time when female partners at law firms were rare. How did that impact your growth, personally and professionally?

A: When I joined the Firm, Jane Dalton, who later became the Firm's first female partner, had one child and was pregnant with her second. Her husband also had a very busy career. My mantra became: "If Jane can do it, I can do it." I saw how much everyone loved and respected Jane, and she loved being at the Firm, so that motivated my decision to accept the Firm's offer. Jane became my mentor.

Combining children with career wasn't accepted at many law firms, but Jane led the way for women and set the gold standard. She, Gene Pratter, Kate Shay and Barbara Adams established a tradition of acceptance of women and, as a result, led Duane Morris to be recognized (and continue to be recognized) as a good place for women to work.

The good news is that female partners were treated the same as male partners. I experienced this firsthand when I worked with Dave Sykes, another of my mentors at the Firm. In 1975, a new client, American Bank, approached us with two big bankruptcy cases. American eventually became Meridian Bank, and by the time I left the Firm, it was one of the Firm's biggest clients. When American approached us, Dave told the bankers that they would be working mainly with me. I was fortunate that Dave had the confidence in me to have me take the lead on these matters, but I was also very fortunate to work with a client that showed its commitment to diversity by working so willingly with a female attorney--a rarity at that time. I attribute a great deal of my success to Dave Sykes. He was an amazing mentor, a fabulous lawyer and a true friend. I would not be where I am today without Dave's guidance and counsel, and his example has been instrumental in how I approach mentoring. He made my success the measure of his success. Back when I worked with Dave, we used carbon copy paper, and I would give Dave the pink copies of all my written work. He would then reach into his briefcase and pull out a wad of pink copies with markups analyzing and editing what I wrote. Working with Dave was an incredible learning experience. I was given the opportunity to grow, and I try to give the younger lawyers who work with me the same opportunity to grow and learn.

In 1978, when the Bankruptcy Code was passed, bankruptcies became a business strategy. Our advice became especially valuable to our clients because they needed to understand the effect that the new provisions of the bankruptcy law would have on their business plans. When I left the firm in 1994, the Reorganization/Finance Group had 25 or 26 lawyers, and I am proud to have helped build that group.

Q: What do you like most about your work as a judge?

A: I love the luxury of really working with the law. At a law firm, the research and writing is done by junior lawyers, and as you become a partner, your focus is more on developing opportunities. As a judge, I spend my time reading, writing and thinking about the law constantly. Another benefit of being on the Court of Appeals is that I can take my time to get it right, whereas time isn't necessarily afforded to you in a law firm or as a trial judge.

Q: You announced in March 2015 that you are taking senior status this year. How will your role change?

A: As of July, I handle 80 percent of the normal workload. I cut my sittings for oral arguments from five per year to four, and I have three law clerks, instead of four. I also have more flexibility in scheduling sittings, which will allow me the time to go to Florida in the winter months. I no longer sit on the motions and pro se panels and also won’t vote on en banc cases.

Q: What are some highlights of your career?

A: There have been a number of highlights, including being the first woman in Philadelphia to practice bankruptcy law, and helping to develop the Reorganization/Finance Group at Duane Morris. Also, receiving the Philadelphia Bar Association's Sandra Day O'Connor Award and serving as Chair of the Bankruptcy Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference were very meaningful. I am also proud now to serve on the seven-member Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a special body within the U.S. federal court system that decides whether and where to centralize multidistrict litigation.

Q: Why did you establish The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement?

A: When I was serving as First Lady of Pennsylvania, I wanted to be involved with a cause that resonated with my career as a judge. In 2004, in partnership with the National Constitution Center and the Pennsylvania Bar Association, I launched the Pennsylvania Coalition for Representative Democracy (PennCORD) to improve civic education for students in grades K-12. Recently, Governor Rendell and I established The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement, a 501(c)(3) corporation located at Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center, to continue the work of PennCORD.

Our goal is to promote understanding of the Constitution and the value of our democracy and our citizenship. Students need to learn what it means to be a citizen and how to participate in our democracy. We are focusing on the elementary grades, and we have learned that even our youngest students can grasp concepts like rights, responsibility and mutual respect. We've held mock trials with students in grades 4 to 6. In one instance, we held a mock trial of the Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was a great exercise because the students could appreciate the moral dilemma that Fox faced in trying to provide food for his family by taking the farmers' chickens.

We want to inspire and motivate children. One of my colleagues, Chief Judge Theodore McKee, who is also on the Rendell Center Board of Directors, visited a local public school. The classroom he visited had only one student who was not a student of color. By visiting with those students, Judge McKee, who is African-American, showed them that someone who is just like them can work hard and accomplish whatever goals they set out to achieve. Our court also holds "Judge Chats" at the National Constitution Center, where we invite judges to speak with students about the law and the Constitution. These experiences impact us just as much as they do the students. It's truly rewarding.

Q: What advice do you have for today's youth?

A: Approach every day as an opportunity to grow and learn. Seize every opportunity and every moment. Young people assume that people like me were born into these positions and that they can't aspire to do the same—but they can! Take advantage of the opportunities you have because the things you do determine who you are and who you will become. Also, seek out older people for advice. It's not a burden. Adults love giving advice and sharing experiences.

Q: How has the legal profession changed since you first started practicing law?

A: Being a lawyer used to be a profession. Maurice Heckscher, Claude Smith, Bill White and Morris Duane were models for the professional lawyer. But respect among lawyers has declined over the years, especially with the proliferation of lawyers who are unethical or more interested in the bottom line. It has become more of an industry, rather than a profession.

Also, when I was first in private practice, there was considerable loyalty of clients to their chosen law firm. Once a client chose you as counsel, you were always their counsel. That's not true today. I also see increased demand on lawyers to balance family and law firm responsibilities. We faced these challenges in the '70s as well, but today, the competition for clients, the bottom-line mentality and the expectation of 24/7 availability, especially given technological advances, make it even more difficult.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

A: I love playing golf and bridge, spending time with my grandchildren and reading things other than briefs!