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Ballard Spahr Attorney Joins Wave of Women Headed to Congress (1)

Nov. 7, 2018, 6:52 PMUpdated: Nov. 7, 2018, 10:58 PM

An attorney in Ballard Spahr’s Philadelphia office will be headed to Washington after winning big in Tuesday night’s U.S. House of Representatives races.

Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat, bested Republican Pearl Kim in the polls to represent Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District. The newly created district, which includes Philadelphia’s western suburbs, was pieced together from other districts after the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the original map constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Scanlon also won a special election in the 7th District to complete the term of Patrick Meehan, a Republican representative who stepped down in April after revelations he used taxpayer money to settle a claim of sexual harassment. She will serve out the remainder of Meehan’s term until she’s sworn in as representative for the 5th district in January.

Scanlon told Bloomberg Law in an interview Wednesday that her 15-year stint as head of the firm’s pro bono program at Ballard is what inspired her to run for Congress.

‘What Led Me To Run’

She has served as pro bono counsel at Ballard Spahr since joining the firm in 2003 -- and has overseen more than 500,000 hours of pro bono work during that period. Her work has included litigation around education policy, as well as cases that involved voter access, discrimination and sentencing for non-violent offenders.

Her work on these and other “above-the-fold” matters, she explained, prompted her to look for new ways to make a difference.

“The work I’ve been doing is what led me to run,” she said.

Scanlon said her efforts to “help those who are hurt when the law changes” will be aided by her familiarity with thought leaders from groups like the ACLU, and NAACP, and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Toward that end, Scanlon said she hopes to be placed on the House Judiciary Committee.

Scanlon is one of four women to win a congressional seat in Pennsylvania in this year’s election, which saw more than 100 women elected to the House of Representatives, a new record.

Core Values

Mark Stewart, Ballard Spahr’s chair – and Scanlon’s husband – said the congresswoman-elect served as an inspiration to others at the firm. Roughly 90 percent of the lawyers at the firm contributed 50 hours of pro bono work or more over the last year, he said.

Serving others “is part of her core values,” said Stewart. He noted that the firm won the 2018 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, “a testament to her leadership.”

The couple’s plan, said Stewart, is for Scanlon to work three-to-four days a week in Washington before heading back to Pennsylvania on weekends.

Stewart said that although Ballard does have an office in Washington, he’ll continue working out of the firm’s Philadelphia office.

Scanlon has been refining her commuting plan with former Vice President Joe Biden, Stewart said. Biden famously took the Amtrak from Washington to Wilmington, Delaware twice most every working day when he served in the U.S. Senate. The two got to know each other during Scanlon’s campaign, said Stewart, though she had long been a fan of Biden’s.

Conflicts Check

Stewart and Scanlon have worked closely with Ballard Spahr to make sure they have avoided conflicts of interest. According to Stewart, this meant he never supervised her work while serving as firm chair nor was he involved in firm leadership discussions regarding her compensation.

He said it remains to be seen how the firm may deal with any possible conflicts that might arise as a result of Scanlon’s election to Congress,including possible scenarios in which firm clients could try to leverage her new government connection.

“We haven’t really gotten to that point,” said Stewart, who noted that the firm’s general counsel would by necessity be involved in any such discussions. “The firm is well aware of it.”

For her part, Scanlon said she’s already met with members of the House Ethics Committee to make sure she avoids any ethical minefields.

(Updated to include interviews with Scanlon and Stewart)

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com