On October 5, 2023, in front of hundreds of Bar members, friends, and family, Pond Lehocky Managing Partner Sam Pond was honored by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association as the 42nd recipient of its annual Justice Michael A. Musmanno Award. Sam is the first workers’ compensation attorney in the history of the award to receive it.
The award is a distinguished honor that recognizes outstanding contributions to the legal profession, particularly in the areas of human rights, civil liberties, and social justice. It is given annually to an individual who best exemplifies the same high integrity, scholarship, imagination, courage, and concern for human rights as exhibited by the late Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Musmanno.
As is tradition, each Fall issue of The Verdict, the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association’s member publication, contains an intimate spotlight of the upcoming Musmanno Award recipient written by a PTLA member who knows the recipient well.
Aside from Sam’s wife Mimi, there is no one who knows Sam better than his fellow Pond Lehocky Giordano founding partner, Jerry Lehocky.
Here is Jerry’s tribute to Sam that first ran in The Verdict.
Having had the honor and privilege of knowing Samuel H. Pond for four decades, I could fill volumes with stories about Sam that show why he’s an incredible—and one-of-kind—lawyer, leader, colleague, entrepreneur, friend, father, and human being. But one recent event stands out as particularly emblematic of the person Sam Pond is.
Let’s travel back in time to February 2020.
COVID-19 is spreading throughout the world, causing governments to close schools, courts, and other institutions, and mandate lockdowns, social distancing, and masking requirements.
Many people are panicking. Sam is not one of them, but he is concerned. Concerned about what court closures could do to the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system.
Sam knew that the commonwealth’s system needed to be protected. Workers’ compensation claims needed to be adjudicated as quickly during COVID as they would have been before COVID. If Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system closed down like other government functions were doing, the key players in that system would suffer, particularly injured and disabled men and women who rely on their benefits to survive.
Injured workers would not get the workers’ compensation benefits they were entitled to, leaving those workers and their families in a precarious situation heading into COVID, jeopardizing their ability to provide and put food on the table for their families, and get the much-needed medical care to address their injuries.
Employers and insurers would be forced to pay benefits while workers’ compensation cases were stayed, for perhaps years, no matter the merits of those cases. Had employers and insurers been forced to do so, they would have incurred unplanned costs that could have caused financial hardship.
Sensing the need to proactively protect the state’s workers’ compensation system and the players in it, Sam convened a group of leaders across the workers’ compensation bar, including claimants’ firms, defense firms, Workers’ Compensation Judges, and the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, to discuss how to keep the Bureau’s courts open by ensuring each Workers’ Compensation Judge could work remotely so that workers, employers, and insurers could have their day in court.
Ultimately, the committee’s recommendations lead the commonwealth to establish a remote workers’ compensation hearing program. Discussions began in February, and by April remote hearings were happening. That’s fast by any standard, let alone when government agencies are involved.
Thanks to Sam, virtual workers’ compensation hearings became the norm well before virtual hearings became the norm in other court systems.
Remarkably, during COVID, there was never a backlog of workers’ compensation adjudications in the commonwealth. The remote system was so efficient and so popular with all players that it set new standards for how the adjudications are being run today. Injured workers get their benefits more quickly, and employers and carriers resolve claims more quickly.
By pushing the workers’ compensation bar to embrace a remote strategy as early as it did, Sam saved workers’ lives by helping them receive benefits, including payments for medical treatments, while the world shut down.
His leadership, creativity, boldness, and understanding that the practice of law (like life) is not a zero-sum game were all on display for everyone to see.
The Making of a Leader
Sam grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Northeast Philly. His father was a union machinist for the Philadelphia Gas Works. His mother worked in North Philadelphia at a sweatshop where, by the way, she suffered a work injury, but the employer did not have insurance.
Sam’s father was severely burned by steam while working at the Philadelphia Gas Works. He never left his union, but the Philadelphia Gas Works was so behind on paying his medical bills that it sent him to Drexel University for an engineering degree. Nevertheless, Sam’s father died a union member.
On his deathbed, Sam’s father designated his union pension to Sam since Sam’s mother had predeceased him. Despite 35 years of excellent service, the Philadelphia Gas Works commissioner denied Sam’s father’s pension. Sam took on his father’s legal case during his first year of law school—it was the first case Sam ever worked on. Sam won the case and established legal precedent that, to this day, still stands.
From 1976 through 1985, Sam worked almost every Friday and Saturday night, and sometimes on weeknights, at the Philadelphia Inquirer on the presses. This union job allowed him to pay his undergraduate tuition at Drexel University, from which he graduated in 1981 with a finance degree.
Sam also worked 90-hour weeks laying a pipeline throughout Pennsylvania during his junior year of high school, as well as at Christian Schmidt Brewing Co. (known affectionately as “Schmidt’s”), and Tastykake. You don’t get more “Philadelphia” than that.
In his senior year at Drexel, Sam had the realization that the rule of law made everything go. Never shying away from being where the action is, Sam used the money he earned from his job at the Philadelphia Inquirer to put himself through law school, graduating from what is now the Temple University Beasley School of Law in 1984.
I first met Sam four decades ago while we were both at Temple Law. Our friendship solidified after law school when I took over his cases at PMA and used some of his trial techniques against him (with varying levels of success).
In 1988, Sam joined George Martin’s firm. I joined him there three years later. Over the course of Sam’s 22 years at the firm, he refined his lawyering, client service, and leadership skills, rose to become a partner at that firm, and had become a heavy hitter in the Pennsylvania and national legal communities.
After over two decades at the firm, Sam was ready for a new challenge. He had ideas about what a modern law firm looked like—from the way its attorneys litigated cases to the way it marketed itself to the way its attorneys and staff communicated with clients.
On July 1, 2010, after many months of planning and some sleepless nights, Sam, Tom Giordano, and I turned the lights on at Pond Lehocky Giordano. Today, the firm is the largest workers’ compensation and disability law firm in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the U.S. The firm also has one of the largest referral practices in the country.
What makes Sam, Sam
Sam’s clients love him—why wouldn’t they?
Sam is a true-blue Philadelphian. He grew up in a neighborhood just like where many of them grew up. He has worked the same kinds of jobs they work now. And he has remained close with many of his friends from his old neighborhood, just like his clients often do. He is the most relatable lawyer they’ll ever meet.
One of things that makes Sam so special is his ability to connect with people from all walks of life. Whether it’s Joe the Union Guy, an equity partner at a large corporate defense firm, a judge, a politician, or a junior Pond Lehocky Giordano employee, Sam treats everyone he interacts with respectfully, with genuine interest in what they have to say, and with self-deprecating humor that puts them at ease.
As an advocate, Sam will do everything he can for the betterment of the cause. He’s a fearless litigator who’s neither afraid of nor intimidated by the size or resources of opposing insurance carriers, employers, and their counsel. He relishes the challenge of going toe-to-toe with them. He believes the fight he’s fighting is the good fight, and doesn’t care what the name is of the company or law firm on the other side. Perhaps most importantly, Sam conveys this passion to all the attorneys and staff at our firm.
Long ago, Sam understood that advocacy outside of a courtroom is an important aspect of being a champion for society’s injured and disabled. That’s why Sam has spent decades in leadership positions in legal industry associations so he can engage face-to-face with politicians and other political stakeholders.
When you have your name on the door of a law firm, being an excellent lawyer isn’t enough. You’ve got to be a leader. Sam was born to be a leader. The growth of Pond Lehocky Giordano is a testament to his leadership qualities.
Remarkably, the firm has grown to where it is today, considering it just turned 13 years old. Sam’s methodical and laser focus on growing the firm has played a large role in that result. But so too has his ability to inspire the firm’s 30 attorneys and dozens of staff members by instilling in them his vision for the firm and his philosophy about taking a holistic approach to clients’ health issues and legal matters.
Despite being on the ball 24 hours a day, seven days a week as managing partner of a thriving law firm—I can’t remember ever seeing an automated out-of-office email reply from him—Sam still has time to be an amazing husband to his wife Mimi, and an amazing father to his son Dylan, an attorney at the firm.
Sam and Mimi just celebrated 40 years of marriage. Mimi grew up four blocks from him and was his first-grade classmate. Though they started dating in high school, I imagine it was clear back then that Mimi was out of Sam’s league. Even today, there’s no doubt Sam married up. They’ve been together for so long and yet, to this day, they love being together.
Dylan is no chip off the old block—he’s a block off the old block. If the way he conducts himself today is any sign, I know he will follow in his father’s footsteps as both a gifted advocate and a savvy leader.
Throughout his legal career and the success he has achieved, Sam has remained grateful for both. He feels blessed to be successful and donates to charitable causes because he wants to provide better opportunities to others. It’s his way of saying “thank you” to institutions that have helped him become the person he is today.
Thanks to his and Mimi’s generosity, future lions of the bar from Drexel Law and Temple Law will hone their craft in courtrooms at their schools that bear his name. In addition, the annual scholarship Sam established in his mother’s name at the Torresdale Boys Club may help another kid from the streets of Northeast Philly realize their dreams and change the world for the better.
The annual Justice Michael A. Musmanno award is presented to the person who exemplifies the high integrity, scholarship, imagination, courage, and concern for human rights that the late Justice exhibited. There’s no more worthy recipient than my partner, colleague, and dear friend, Sam Pond.
I hope you will join us on Thursday, October 5, to celebrate Sam and this recognition.
Jerry M. Lehocky is a founding partner of Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP, the largest workers’ compensation and Social Security disability law firm in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the U.S. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article was first published in Volume 2023–2024, Issue 2, of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association’s Verdict publication.