PLSE receives a grant from the Philadelphia Bar Foundation

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity receives first-ever grant from the Philadelphia Bar Foundation

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation, Philadelphia’s only foundation dedicated to strengthening the delivery of civil legal aid, announced today that Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) will receive a 2018 Philadelphia Bar Foundation Grant.

Founded in 1964, the Bar Foundation seeks to remove barriers to justice, engage the community to support legal aid, and build system-wide capacity. It provides annual grants and other support that allow its legal aid nonprofit partners to provide vital services for tens of thousands of people across the Philadelphia region who are facing civil legal obstacles.

This is the first time that the Philadelphia Bar Foundation has made an award to PLSE, and PLSE is the only first- time recipient included this year, according to the Bar Foundation’s Executive Director Jessica R. Hilburn-Holmes. “PLSE is a hidden gem,” she said. “It files and prosecutes more criminal records expungement petitions than any other organization in the United States, by leveraging the volunteer work of lawyers, law students, paralegals and technology. It’s an excellent model of how our legal community can work together to help those who are desperate for legal help, but cannot afford it. We are delighted to be able to add PLSE to our very impressive list of nonprofit partners.”

“On behalf of the thousands of people whose lives will be changed by better jobs and better housing when their criminal record histories are expunged, I thank the Philadelphia Bar Foundation for this great vote of confidence,” said attorney Ryan Allen Hancock, Chair of PLSE’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Employment Law Department of Willig, Williams & Davidson.

“It has been estimated that twenty-five percent of all Philadelphians have criminal records, and most if not all of us have biases about criminal records,” Hancock continued. “As attorneys, we have an obligation to recognize these biases and provide our clients not just legal expertise, but also hope and confidence that they need to keep going. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Grant recognizes the difference we are making in the lives of our clients, our profession and our City. I hope it will be the emblem we need to attract more support, so that we can expand our program and help more people, improving our society for everyone.”

About The Philadelphia Bar Foundation

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is dedicated to promoting access to justice for all people in the community, particularly those struggling with poverty, abuse and discrimination. It accomplishes this mission by providing grants and technical assistance in support of quality legal services, addressing unmet legal needs and providing education on matters in the public interest. To learn more about the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s annual grant awards, visit their grants page.

The full press release can be found here.

PLSE receives Barra Foundation award for 2018-2019

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity wins 2018-2019 Barra Award; Recognized as an “Exemplary Nonprofit Organization”

Barra Award Recipient The Barra Foundation announced today that Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) is a recipient of a Barra Award for 2018-2019. The Barra Awards provide unrestricted operating support to “exemplary nonprofits demonstrating leadership, adaptability and performance.”

Founded in 1963, the Barra Foundation seeks to fuel innovation. As its President, Kristina Wahl, explains, “Innovation for Barra is about creating the conditions for idea generation, testing novel approaches to well-defined problems, and sharing lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t.” In presenting the Barra Awards this year, she said of its recipients, “The Awards provide the organizations with some financial breathing room and their leaders with opportunities to learn from their peers—a diverse and inspiring network of entrepreneurial thinkers from across the nonprofit sector.”

“On behalf of those who founded PLSE in 2010 and who have been so energetic and innovative in its first seven years, especially Mike Lee who has served as its Executive Director and managing attorney since its beginnings, and staff attorney Zane Johnson who has allowed us to expand our reach so greatly over the past two years, I thank the Barra Foundation for this great honor,” said attorney Ryan Allen Hancock, Chair of PLSE’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Employment Law Department of Willig, Williams & Davidson.

“We have to change the narrative about criminal records from being a prejudicial character stigma, to being just a record of past government action that should expire in appropriate circumstances,” Hancock notes, “Convictions are static; people change. It is in the best interest of everyone, including the City and its many communities, as well as the defendants and their families, to allow each of us to reach our potential as a productive, contributing, tax-paying member of society. The Barra Award will inspire and give us new energy to continue expanding the reach and the breadth of our programs.” These programs include the development of a new, community-based, technology-supported process for applying to the Governor for pardons by those whose post- conviction lives demonstrate true rehabilitation.

About The Barra Foundation

The Barra Foundation invests in innovation to inspire change that strengthens communities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Through its Catalyst Fund and Barra Awards, the Foundation provides approximately $4 million in annual grants that are focused on supporting innovation in and across the fields of arts & culture, education, health, and human services. To learn more about the Barra Awards program, click here.

The full press release can be found here.

Have you been denied employment by SEPTA?

Case Overview – Does this apply to you?

On April 27, 2016, Outten & Golden, LLP, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Public Interest Law Center, and Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of Frank Long and other job applicants similarly effected by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (“SEPTA”) criminal background check policies and practices. The plaintiff alleges that SEPTA violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to properly inform job applicants like him that it was requesting to run a background check.  The plaintiff also alleges that SEPTA violated Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act by disqualifying job applicants with unrelated convictions from employment at SEPTA.

Individuals who applied to work for SEPTA and were denied employment because of their criminal records since 2014 may be eligible to be part of the lawsuit.

  • Did you apply to work for SEPTA?
  • Were you denied employment, at least in part, because of your criminal history and/or the results of a background check?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, we’d like to talk to you.

Contact us:

SEPTA background check practices violate Federal and State laws

PHILADELPHIA On April 27, PLSE along with Outten & Golden LLP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a class action law suit against South Eastern Transportation Authority (SEPTA) of willfully violating Federal and State law when conducting and evaluating criminal history background checks during the hiring process.  Filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the class action accuses SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system, of routinely rejecting job applicants based on information contained in reports obtained from background check companies.

The named plaintiff is Frank Long, a 55-year-old resident of Philadelphia and a commercially licensed bus driver whose October 2014 job offer for a position as a SEPTA bus operator was rescinded after he was subjected to SEPTA’s criminal background check process.

Mr. Long stated, “I’ve lived in Philadelphia practically all my life and have experience doing exactly the kind of work SEPTA was hiring for. I care about my community and am not a threat to anyone. This job would make a real difference in my life.” Mr. Long was convicted of a drug related felony over 20 years ago.

The full complaint can be read here; 16-04-27-Complaint-stamped Long v Septa

The legal team for the putative class includes:

Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley, of Outten & Golden LLP’s New York office;

Jon Greenbaum and Mateya Kelley of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, of Washington, D.C.;

Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center, of Philadelphia;

Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson, of Philadelphia; and

Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, of Philadelphia;

Groundbreaking new exhibit at Eastern State Penitentiary




As part of PLSE’s ongoing efforts to change the narrative around criminal records, we had the pleasure to consult with Eastern State Penitentiary on their newest exhibit; Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration.  Be sure to visit our friends at Eastern State Penitentiary this month for tours of Eastern State Penitentiary, visitors can take a journey of self-reflection through the new exhibit.  The exhibit is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, included with admission to the historic site.

Click here for more information about Eastern State Penitentiary, the new exhibit, or to take an interactive quiz.


PLSE accepting applications for AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works JD positions

March 1, 2016


Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity is seeking currently enrolled law students to apply for an AmeriCorps JD position.  AmeriCorps JD shall complete 300 hours of service by August 31, 2016 with our Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP).  Applicants must provide a start and end date for their term of service in their application materials.

In addition to membership into the AmeriCorps alumni network, students will receive a $1,212 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for their service. The student will not receive a cash stipend for service as an AmeriCorps JD Member. The Education Award is a voucher that can be applied toward student loans or current tuition within seven years of completion of service.

60% of the JD’s time will be devoted to direct legal representation. 40% of the JD’s time will be reserved for following up with clients, gathering employment data, and creating education and outreach materials. The JD will receive substantive training in the nexus of criminal and civil law, and will be responsible for the following tasks, including but not limited to: Attend monthly expungement intakes and review assist in post-intake follow up. Represent economically disadvantaged individuals annually, drafting and reviewing expungement/redaction petitions on their behalf, representing them in expungement hearings in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Follow up with any individuals who have had their petitions granted, to make sure that all relevant agencies are complying with the Court’s expungement order. Conduct follow-up interviews with new and existing clients to collect data and measure effects of expungement on access to employment and education opportunities. Create legal education materials for legal aid organizations doing expungements in Philadelphia County, and beyond. Conduct community education presentations at non-profit organizations and social service providers. Maintain a PLSE’s social media outreach. Other administrative tasks related to AmeriCorps and Equal Justice Works program compliance, and as assigned.


Interested applicants should email a resume and brief writing sample to

More information can be found here.

AmeriCorps JD Recruitment Ad (1)

Governor Tom Wolf signs a new bill allowing for the sealing of some criminal record information

The United States is the world leader in incarceration and a criminal record often carries a lifetime of consequences that often lead to poverty or re-incarceration.”  Gov. Wolf.

In a historic step, Pennsylvania recognized the need for reform of the criminal justice system and the life long  prejudice facing people with criminal convictions.

Senate Bill 166 creates an order of limited access.  A limited access orders allows a person who has not been arrested or convicted for at least ten years following competition of their sentence to petition the court where the conviction occurred to have some misdemeanors conviction(s) that carry a maximum penalty of two years incarceration to be sealed.  If granted, a limited access order restricts access of sealed information to law enforcement agencies.  Not everyone is eligible to have a limited access order.

For eligibility restrictions and more information, read the full bill here.