Dilworth Paxson Attorney On Aiding The Philly Arts Community

Veteran attorney and Dilworth Paxson LLP of counsel Ralph Wellington’s lifelong love for the arts has fostered a career-long dedication to helping struggling musicians, dancers, artists, and nonprofits with their legal needs.

Wellington’s commitment to the arts in the Philadelphia region culminated earlier this month in his receiving this year’s Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts Award for Exceptional Service. He accepted the award as part of the PVLA’s Arts Affair 2024 celebration in what he recently told Law360 Pulse was a “moving” ceremony surrounded by friends he has made throughout his service with the organization.

The PVLA has provided services to low-income artists and small arts organizations for more than 45 years, offering free legal aid, resources, and education through volunteer lawyers and law firms. Wellington has been involved for more than three decades, including serving as the board of directors’ president from 1999 to 2001.

Wellington moved to Philadelphia in 1971, joining Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP after earning his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. For more than 50 years, Wellington built a litigation practice advising clients on class actions, aviation and railroad law, corporate litigation, art law, and trusts and estates.

Wellington served as lead counsel for the Barnes Foundation during its successful efforts to develop a new art education center in downtown Philadelphia. He also took on more leadership roles within Schnader Harrison, including serving as firm chair from 1998 to 2010.

At the same time as Wellington grew his practice, his love of music and jazz continued to blossom in Philadelphia. He formed a jazz group, Standard Time, that featured his son, Ralph, and three other attorneys. Along with his work with the PVLA, Wellington has also served on the board for the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and was vice president of the board from 2008 to 2013.

Wellington was one of 19 attorneys who moved to Dilworth Paxson’s Philadelphia office in September after Schnader Harrison closed its doors. He is of counsel in the legal department, representing clients on commercial litigation matters at the state, federal, and appellate level.

Wellington recently talked about receiving his award and his love for the arts in a conversation with Law360 Pulse.

What was your reaction to receiving this award from the PVLA?

“I wasn’t volunteering with the organization in order to receive awards, so it was very touching that these people recognized I have been doing this for a long time. It was very moving to receive the award. I love the arts. It was nice to receive the award in front of so many friends I had made over the years.”

You have been involved with the PVLA for decades. Why have you devoted so much time to this organization?

“I was on the board for a long time and chair for many years. I was at a publishing event once, and they handed out an old photo of me with a martini glass and all these people behind me who served in the military and dressed in uniform. I looked like James Bond, and it said on the photo, “Making the world safe for the arts.”

It’s not just me, it is also the organization which believes the art community is so important and contributes so much to our lives. I’m not just talking about painters with their easels, I am also talking about dancers, musicians, organizations, and art teachers.

They make these artistic, beautiful things, but the challenge is financially they are very often not strong. For more than 40 years, PVLA has provided free legal consulting, representation, and training.”

What are some of the legal services that low-income artists need from the PVLA? Are there any clients or moments that are particularly memorable for you?

“Overall, the PVLA helps with contract drafting and negotiation, business formation for nonprofits, employment issues, privacy, licensing, trial and appellate matters for legal disputes. I helped a designer who did work on the interior space for a facility, and the organization never paid for the work. I represented her and reviewed the terms of the contract between the artist and the gallery.

There was a European artist, a Russian, who was brought to New York by a gallery who then stole his art and dumped him on the street. I helped him get his art back.”

You are also a jazz musician. Does this help you connect with potential clients?

“I’ve played piano all my life, and I’ve just started oil painting. It gives me more incentive to represent people in the arts. I’m more alert of what they are going through.”

You moved over to Dilworth Paxson in September after Schnader Harrison closed. How has it been in the new firm?

“They have been very supportive and welcoming. The firm is excellent, with quality people and a great culture. I’ve been able to do a lot of pro bono work. It has been a great move.”