Learn the Law with Bernard G. Segal

When I first walked around the Biddle Law Archives as a project archivist, I kept seeing boxes with “Segal” written on the outside in faded cursive. I started counting the number of boxes I came across and quickly lost track. I opened a few of the boxes and saw folders labeled with “Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” “Committee on Campus Unrest,” and “Trial of the Chicago Seven.” I searched in our archive database for more information and discovered that the 150 boxes of material belonged to Bernard G. Segal, a lifelong Philadelphia attorney.

Geraldine R. Segal, Bernard’s wife, donated his office files to Biddle in 1999. Although the collection had been inventoried by a former archivist, the material had never been fully processed. I spent the last six months going through the material to make sense of Bernard Segal’s life and career. The files have now been arranged and described in detail, preservation concerns have been addressed, and a finding aid is available online.

Geraldine and Bernard Segal

While working with the collection, I was constantly surprised by the wide range of content that I came across and the many organizations that Segal took part in. Bernard G. Segal graduated from Central High School in 1924, earned his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School in 1928, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School in 1931. When the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, William A. Schnader, created a Philadelphia law firm in 1935, Segal was asked to join as an associate. He quickly became a partner of the firm now known as Schnader, Harrison, Segal, and Lewis. Segal specialized in appellate advocacy and argued almost 50 cases before the Supreme Court.

Commencement program from Central High School, 1924

However, Segal’s collection in the Biddle archives contains material outside of his work at the firm. Throughout his career, Segal’s secretary Jane Traphoner maintained cabinets of personal (non-firm related) files. These included material from Segal’s professional activities, governmental appointments, and community work. Here are examples of some of the content found in the collection:

  • Segal’s files on the history of the American Bar Association (ABA), including correspondence, minutes, and reports from its various sections, committees, and task forces. The files span Segal’s entire career, but there are files that were created during Segal’s time as President of the ABA from 1969 to 1970. Also included are two folders on this history of the ABA’s relationship with the National Bar Association.
  • Segal’s files documenting his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania. Segal remained involved with the University of Pennsylvania throughout his career. He was elected a University Trustee in 1954 and became a Life Trustee in 1966. He helped form the Trustees’ Committee on University Responsibility and served as a member of the Law School Board of Overseers. Among his gifts to the University are the Segal Moot Court and the Bernard G. Segal Endowed Professorship for Deans of the Law School.
Scrapbook page documenting Segal’s experiences at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Reports, correspondence, and minutes from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. President John F. Kennedy formed this committee in 1963 with Bernard Segal and Harrison Tweed serving as the first co-chairs. The committee was comprised of lawyers working for civil rights by organizing civic action and providing legal services in the south. Segal’s files include annual reports, project reports, and reports from committee members serving as liaisons with state bar associations. 
Report on the Mississippi Office of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law with Segal’s annotations
  •  Minutes and letters related to the Office of Economic Opportunity National Advisory Committee on Legal Services. Segal served as the chairman from 1968 to 1976 and worked on ways to provide legal services to low-income communities.
  • Correspondence, minutes, and reports from the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO). The CLEO was founded in 1968 to expand opportunities for minority and low-income students to attend law school. Segal served as an early chairman of the board and his files cover 1968 to 1973.
Segal’s notes from a meeting on the Council on Legal Education Opportunity

For an idea of other topics found in the collection, here is a list of some of the other organizations that Segal served, and kept files on, during his long and active career:

  • Philadelphia Bar Association president
  • American College of Trial Lawyers president
  • American Judicature Society chairman and member of the board of directors
  • American Bar Foundation president
  • Institute of Judicial Administration member of the board of directors
  • World Association of Lawyers president for America
  • Foundation of the Federal Bar Association member of the board
  • American Law Institute counselor emeritus, vice president, and treasurer
  • World Peace Through Law Center chairman
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund member of the board of directors
  • Commission on Judicial and Congressional Salaries chairman
  • Commission on Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Salaries chairman
NAACP Legal Defense Fund resources found in the Segal papers

Bernard Segal died in June 1997 at the age of 89. Along with the office files, Geraldine Segal donated 35 oversized scrapbooks that she created to document Segal’s career. They include correspondence from other attorneys, news clippings about awards Segal received or cases that he worked on, and group photographs from legal events. Although the scrapbooks are still being processed, the rest of the collection is now available for researchers to access in the Biddle Archives and the finding aid is available here.

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