Jewish American Heritage Month: Honoring the Legal Giants of Philadelphia

In the city known for the quality of its lawyers for over 250 years, and in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we celebrate the contributions of outstanding Philadelphia Jewish lawyers, including Horace Stern, Morris Wolf, Helen Spigel Sax, Sylvan Cohen and Bernard Segal. Their contributions on both the local and national stages helped break barriers for equality and add to the legal prominence of the city of Philadelphia.

We invite you to learn more about each of these legal giants below.

Horace Stern (1878 – 1969)

Horace Stern was the first Jew to serve on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the second Jewish trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. He was also very active within Philadelphia’s Jewish community, having served as president of the Federation of Jewish Charities (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia) and having been a founder of the American Jewish Committee. Stern graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1899 and went on to co-found the law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen (later called WolfBlock) in 1903, which was one of the first all-Jewish Philadelphia law firms. He later took an appointment to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in 1920 and became chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1952. Read more about this legal giant.

Morris Wolf (1883 – 1978)

Morris Wolf was born in Philadelphia in 1883. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he founded Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen – one of the first all-Jewish Philadelphia law firms – in 1903 with his law professor, Horace Stern. Wolf served as Philadelphia District Attorney, Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania and General Counsel for the Foreign Operations Administration (FOA) in Washington, D.C. He served on the Board of Directors of numerous organizations, and he was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Art Museum, Albert Einstein Medical Center and the Stephen Girard Estate. He also served as President of the Federation of Jewish Agencies and Vice President of the YM-YWHA Branch of the Jewish Ys and Centers. Read more about this legal giant.

Helen Spigel Sax (1915 – 2004)

Helen Spigel Sax was born in North Philadelphia and became an estate-planning lawyer and a pioneer among women lawyers aspiring to partnership in large law firms. She overcame polio as a teenager and went on to attend Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania. She was an attorney for more than 50 years at Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen. In the 1960s, she served as president of the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia and was a board member of the National Museum of American Jewish History, the Rosenbach Museum and Library and the Big Brother/Big Sister Association of Philadelphia, among other educational and charitable institutions. Read more about this legal giant.  

Sylvan Cohen (1914 – 2001)

Sylvan Cohen founded the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) — one of the first REITs in the U.S. — in 1960. Born in Philadelphia, Cohen grew up in a West Philadelphia row home. He graduated in 1935 from the University of Pennsylvania and received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1938. A veteran of World War II, Cohen served as a combat intelligence officer in the Air Corps. He was former Chairman of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), of which he was a founding member. Among his many positions in the community, Cohen served as President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Vice President of the United Way as well as Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School and Law School, the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia. Read more about this legal giant.

Bernard G. Segal (1907 – 1997)

Bernard Segal was born in New York City, but he spent his childhood in Allentown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received both his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. The Attorney General of Pennsylvania, William A. Schnader, appointed Segal as Deputy Attorney General in 1932. At 24, Segal was the youngest deputy attorney general in state history and served in the role until 1934. When Schnader lost a race for governor and established his own firm in 1935, Segal joined the firm as its only associate and quickly became a partner. He eventually served as chairman of the firm, now known as Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis. Segal became the first Jewish lawyer elected chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, the nation’s oldest bar association. In 1969, he became president of the American Bar Association. Segal was known as the nation’s foremost advocate of merit selection of judges. Read more about this legal giant.

Co-authors Michael Coran and Brett Feldman are members of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Klehr Harrison, which strives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion through education in all forms from educating our own lawyers and clients, hiring and mentoring minority lawyers and providing tools to educate students of all ages.

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