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Phil W. Amram Award
What is the Amram Award,
and who is Philip Werner Amram

As published in the ACBA Lawyers Journal, Feb. 29, 2008


What It Is
The Amram Award is a truly unique award, and it is given in the spirit of the Bench-Bar Conference.  The Bench-Bar Conference is dedicated to professional development and to enhancing and improving our bar association and the justice system in our community.  Similarly, the Amram Award recognizes individuals who personify professional excellence and who have demonstrated substantial commitment to the ideals of the Allegheny County Bar Association as well as to the betterment of the greater community.


The Amram Award may be given annually in conjunction with the Bench Bar Conference of the Allegheny County Bar Association.  The award may be given in the discretion of the Amram Award Committee which may decline to give the award in any given year. 


The Hon. Christine Ward and the Hon. Livingstone Johnson, both Amram Award winners, pose for a photo with the Amram Award.

Who He Was
The unparalleled legal career of Philip Werner Amram spanned more than six decades and left behind a legacy of greatness toward which others in the legal profession can aspire.


``We all should have beacons of light that we steer ourselves toward in our professional careers,’’ said Barry Simpson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. ``Young lawyers and students certainly have an appreciation of the qualities that Mr. Amram epitomized even though they never met him. It is the job of those who knew him to let others know who Mr. Amram was and what he stood for.’’


Amram, who died in 1990, was a renowned legal scholar who excelled in the practice of international private law. In fact, he served as chairman of the U.S. delegation to the 1972 Hague Conference on International Private Law. His main area of expertise was settling legal disputes between private citizens of different countries.


He is best known among legal professionals in the Commonwealth for chairing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Committee on Civil Procedural Rules from 1958 to 1982. As a result of his extensive background, he was regarded as an expert on Pennsylvania law. During his career, he wrote several books relevant to state laws, including ``Amram’s Pennsylvania Common Pleas Practice,’’ ``New Federal Rules in Pennsylvania’’ and ``Goodrich-Amram Pennsylvania Procedural Rules Service,’’ which was published annually from 1940 through 1980.


``He was a man of great personal integrity and was clearly dedicated to educating lawyers, particularly in the minutiae and nuances of the Rules of Procedure,’’ said Simpson, who practiced law in Allegheny County for 27 years and served as president of the Allegheny County Bar Association in 1998. ``I was honored to have met him. I was still a wet-behind-the-ears young lawyer and he was a giant in the profession.’’


Simpson met Amram at the annual ACBA Bench-Bar Conference in 1973. Amram, a native of Philadelphia, first attended the Bench-Bar Conference in the mid-1960s as a distinguished guest of honor who could discuss the latest changes in Pennsylvania Civil Procedure. In the years that followed, he became an institution at the annual conference and attendees looked forward to hearing his presentations, enjoying his company and sharing the camaraderie of a friendly poker game.


Although Amram lived in Washington, D.C., for 40 years prior to his death, he made the trip to the Seven Springs Mountain Resort on an annual basis to attend the conference. The ACBA’s Bench-Bar Conference Committee established the Amram Award in his honor shortly before his death in 1990. He was 90 years old when he died at the Allendale Nursing Home in New Jersey after a long illness.



2023 Bench-Bar Committee Chair Joseph Froetschel, Amram Awardee the Hon. Lisa Pupo Lenihan and the Hon. Kim Eaton.

Award recipients must have been admitted to the practice of law for 12 years or more, be a member of the Allegheny County Bar Association and have been active in the affairs of the ACBA and its Bench-Bar Conference. In addition, nominees must have successfully combined the practice of law with outstanding service to the community.


Simpson, who chaired the Bench-Bar Conference in 1982, served on the original award selection committee.

``I know all of the recipients,’’ he said. ``They all have the qualities that Mr. Amram possessed -- a recognition of the importance of lawyers and judges gathering together for the purposes of education, to support and improve the system of justice and to encourage collegiality among members of the legal profession. These are all things that happen at the Bench-Bar Conference.’’


Dennis Harrington of The McClelland Law Group, LLC was the first recipient of the prestigious Amram Award in 1990. Harrington was admitted to practice law in 1951 and has enjoyed a successful career laden with the same qualities that Amram espoused.


In particular, Harrington has always had a steadfast interest in the practice of law and an awareness of the importance of educating lawyers. He enjoyed spending time with Amram at the annual conferences and was honored to receive the first award.


``He was a man I admired and respected. In addition to being brilliant, well versed and able to apply the rules of law, he was one of us in the sense that he enjoyed our humor and playing poker,’’ recalled Harrington. ``He was very approachable, but when you approached him, you knew he was a special person with a special talent. 


``He had a special appeal to trial lawyers because he was an expert in the rules,’’ added Harrington. ``His presentations were unique, however, because he did not favor plaintiff or defendant attorneys. He presented his remarks to everyone equally. He was also especially adept at peppering his presentations with humorous events and cases, so he was able to make a dry subject very interesting.’’


Harrington said his respect for Amram was enhanced even further by the fact that he volunteered his time year after year to give special presentations at the Bench-Bar Conference, even though it meant traveling from Washington, D.C.


Although McCarthy did not personally know Amram, she has heard many people speak highly of him and his contributions to the legal profession. She believes the award in his memory is an excellent way to honor others who have ideals similar to his.


``The ideals he represented should be standards to which everyone aspires,’’ she said. ``He clearly loved the law and worked hard to do a good job for the public in trying to improve the profession. It is important that we hold out such ideals to younger members of the profession early so they can immediately begin working toward these goals.’’


ACBA member John F. Becker describes Amram as a great teacher and a great lawyer whose career should serve as an inspiration to others in the profession. He recalls his appearances at the Bench-Bar Conference.


``I believe Mr. Amram put the Bench-Bar Conference on the map as a statewide event and not just a local bar meeting,’’ noted Becker. ``When he came, the Supreme Court justices started to come and it became the fashionable place to be in the legal community in early June in Pennsylvania.’’


Becker said today’s generation of lawyers would have been just as enthralled as his generation was to hear Amram discuss current issues and what was taking place in the world court in The Hague in the Netherlands.


``He could tell you about every new procedural rule, why it was implemented, what cases it applied to and how it could be used in everyday practice to streamline court procedures in your cases,’’ added Becker. ``This was both interesting and nuts-and-bolts stuff you needed to know from a highly respected teacher/attorney. He was devoted to the law even in the later years of his life. The law was his life.’’


Amram’s life in the profession literally began when he was born in 1900 as the son of David Werner Amram, a prominent lawyer and biblical scholar. The senior Amram, who died in 1939, earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1889 and later served as a faculty member at the university.


Amram followed in his father’s footsteps by obtaining a stellar education with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1920 and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Pennsylvania State College two years later.


He graduated cum laude in 1927 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. While serving as editor-in-chief, he threatened to resign from the position when the law school dean tried to bar Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander from becoming the first African-American woman to be elected to the board of editors. The dean eventually relented and Alexander was permitted to join the Law Review. She became the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.


Amram returned to the university to serve as a faculty member from 1929 to 1942 and an associate trustee from 1959 to 1976. He and his father served together as faculty members of the university for several years.


Individuals who met Amram were impressed with the manner by which he used his extensive educational background and knowledge of the law to contribute to the profession and the community.


``In addition to being an outstanding lawyer, he gave unstintingly to his community and his fellow human beings in pro bono causes,’’ said Paul Manion of Manion McDonough & Lucas, who served as one of the first members of the Amram Award Committee. ``He was the proverbial `Man for All Seasons,’ a gentleman and a scholar, an elegant and sophisticated man, yet one with a common touch who was equally at ease arguing a case before the International Court at The Hague and playing poker and drinking beer with other attendees of the Bench-Bar Conference into the early hours of the morning.’’


Manion met Amram in the early 1960s and came to know him as a friend.


``The principal lesson to be learned by law students and young lawyers from his life and career is that one can be both an outstanding lawyer and an outstanding human being,’’ said Manion. ``The two are not mutually exclusive, but are complementary traits.’’


Edwin Klett of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, said there is only one way to describe Philip Werner Amram -- ``A giant of a lawyer.’’


When Klett began serving on the Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1986, Amram was then acting as chair emeritus of the committee.


``Phil carried on the duty in marvelous fashion. He attended every meeting of the committee even though he was no longer chairman or a voting member,’’ said Klett. ``From time to time, the committee would get off on a tangent and he would speak up in a gentlemanly way and offer guidance. I don’t know anyone who has received the personal support of the Supreme Court like he was able to engender over time.’’


Klett said honoring Amram by giving the annual award in his memory at the Bench-Bar Conference is an appropriate way to keep his legacy alive.


``His memory is reflected by the credentials of those who receive the award,’’ said Klett. ``The bar in general should be inspired to provide public service and to become outstanding lawyers by seeing others achieve lofty goals and by remembering what Phil accomplished in his lifetime.’’


Amram’s passion for the legal profession and life in general is evident in a statement he once made: ``I believe that God placed man on earth to develop himself to the maximum limits of his capability. Any person who does not devote his or her life to this aim is defrauding not only himself or herself but also our Maker.’’

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