The nation's plaintiffs' bar boasts its share of talented lawyers with colorful biographies, but few can claim a professional record - and personal story - to match that of Philadelphia's Alan M. Feldman. For starters, Feldman, who worked his way through law school running his own process-serving business, owns a long record of high accomplishment in the courtroom, winning major jury verdicts and appellate decisions in the courts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other venues. Awards for his clients routinely reach seven and eight figures. Further, since the 1980s he's built a practice that is something of an anomaly in today's legal profession: 19-lawyer Center City-based Feldman Shepherd is collaborative, collegial and intensely client-focused. The firm's success is a direct reflection of Feldman himself, who brings an I-take-it-personally sensitivity, directness and independence to everything he's ever done. Peers say the sharply defined Feldman is almost an antithesis of the corporate robot. Indeed, in a legal field that relies on strong, richly authentic people to confront powerful and monolithic corporations, Feldman is out of Central Casting.
Philadelphia's legal community, like his clients over the years, has counted on Feldman's wisdom and energy. His tenure in 2006 as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association raised his stature further, helping him dispel the notion of being recognized only as a "trial lawyer," unconnected to the wider profession that he is so fiercely devoted to. He is particularly proud of founding the "Raising the Bar" program, which encourages law firms in Philadelphia to contribute at least $300 per lawyer to support legal services for the indigent.
It has helped that his Philly roots have cheesesteak authenticity: The son of a handyman, Feldman grew up working for his uncle at Jack's Luncheonette, something of a landmark in the 1960s Wynnefield neighborhood he hails from. Feldman worked the counter, waited tables and made sandwiches while plotting a better future. He and his brother, Elliot R. Feldman, currently the co-chair of litigation at the Cozen O'Connor firm, went to Temple University and Temple Law School, both paying their own way. With Elliott, Alan launched a process-serving and legal filing business known as AMF Associates, serving subpoenas and delivering legal documents throughout the city, but especially to and from the city's courts; "I must have gotten a thousand parking tickets servicing my law firm clients in center city," he says. His brother Elliot adds that the business "was how we paid our tuition and supported ourselves."
While working at a law firm during his college years, an early mentor, A. Martin Herring, "took me to hearings, where I developed a fascination for the courtroom. Then and there I knew what I wanted to do." Feldman later clerked for Judge Stanley Greenberg of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and then joined the trial practice of Raynes, McCarty and Binder, led by Arthur Raynes, one of Philadelphia's legendary courtroom lawyers. It wasn't long before the young Feldman - creative, relentless, making the most of his opportunities - was taking major accident and product liability cases to trial.
In 1987 Feldman, together with Carol Nelson Shepherd and Ezra Wohlgelernter, launched their own firm, which has developed into one of the region's most successful litigation boutiques. Wohlgelernter says Feldman "leads by example. He never asks others to work harder or do more than he does." Longtime friend Abe Reich, co-chair of Fox Rothschild, says much of the secret of Feldman's success lies in the fact that "he never promotes a victory at the expense of an opponent," which earned him the respect of adversaries. It's true that in recent years Feldman - sometimes to his embarrassment and discomfort - has been showered with glowing profiles and honors, but he recognizes the importance of his celebrity to both his firm and the trial bar. And he remains a substantive, savvy and influential trial lawyer who hasn't let the attention go to his head. He still advocates for a nonpartisan approach to filling Pennsylvania's judgeships, a process that has been increasingly politicized in recent years. And, as always, he aggressively defends the people's access to the justice system, as Pennsylvania and other states consider - and sometimes pass - elements of tort reform. In many respects Feldman today is at the top of his profession; yet he remains grounded, hardly complacent, still sharp-edged, even unselfish: With affection and sincerity he recounts the achievements of his partners and colleagues.
Feldman and his wife Maureen Pelta, an art historian and full professor at Moore College of Art and Design, live in Bala Cynwyd, PA. They have two grown daughters, headed towards doctoral degrees of their own in Linguistic Anthropology and Art History. "I'm the most boring member of the family," Feldman insists. Still, he says, "I loved my work from the day I started in the practice of law, and the law has been good to me. But I've also been incredibly fortunate - to have great colleagues to work with, and great clients to work for."