Raising the Bars

Through theory, practice and leadership opportunities, Villanova University School of Law (VLS) prepares its students to become lawyers who can tackle the complex challenges of the ever-changing worlds of law and business. VLS is proud to celebrate three alumni who will assume prestigious leadership roles of three bar associations. Rachel E. Branson, Esq. ’06, president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia; Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Esq. ’81, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and Thomas G. Wilkinson, Esq. ’81, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Rachel Branson, VLS '06

Rachel Branson is an active member and President-Elect of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia. She is currently an associate at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’ Philadelphia office, working in the business services department and intellectual property practice group. As a VLS student, she was a recipient of the Arthur W. Goldberg Scholarship and was awarded the Villanova Faculty Service Award. Rachel’s commitment to increasing diversity in the practice of law is demonstrated through her participation as a member of her firm's Diversity Committee, a mentor for the Villanova Law Minority Alumni Association, an organizer of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s National Symposium on Diversity, an active alumnus of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group and the organizer and Chair of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia’s Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast.

When asked how VLS prepares students for life after law school, Rachel said, “The thing that really sets Villanova Law School apart for me was the generosity of the alumni. I was frequently given the opportunity to work and network with VLS alumni who took a sincere interest in my classmates and me and spent their valuable time talking with us. This was really a gift, as when I entered the Philadelphia legal community as a practicing attorney, I already knew many judges, practitioner and leaders. Villanova’s alumni made all the difference to me in my studies and, eventually, in my practice.” Rachel’s experience as a law student provided the inspiration for her to pursue her own leadership endeavors in the Philadelphia legal community.

Tom Wilkinson and Kathleen Wilkinson, VLS '81

Photo Credit:
Jeff Lyon, Philadelphia Bar Association

Tom and Kathleen Wilkinson met on their first day of classes at Villanova Law School in 1978, and they were married in Villanova’s chapel in 1985. Since their time at Villanova, they have learned to juggle law, professional affiliations and family life with their three children. Tom was just recently inaugurated as the 118th president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and in January 2013, Kathleen will begin her appointment as chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Kathleen has been with Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP since 1984 and is one of the firm’s most senior female partners. She was appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell ’68 to serve on the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness. Kathleen’s service and leadership extends beyond the Philadelphia Bar Association to include the House of Delegates of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Philadelphia Association of Defense Lawyers and the Historical Society of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, among others. As a VLS student, she was a member of the Villanova Law Review and a semifinalist in Villanova’s Reimel Moot Court Competition. Kathleen was also a founding member and president of the J. Willard O’Brien Inn of Court at the Villanova University School of Law.

Tom is a member of Cozen O’Connor in the firm’s Philadelphia office, where he practices in the commercial litigation group and heads its alternative dispute resolution practice. He has served the Pennsylvania Bar Association in various capacities, including: chair of its Civil Litigation Section, member of the Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee and a member of House of Delegates. As president, one of his goals is to encourage the use of youth courts to deal with student conduct and the “bullying” issue in Pennsylvania’s school system. Tom also has affiliations with the Philadelphia Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

While a VLS student, Tom was the managing editor of the Villanova Law Review. He has continued his relationship with VLS as an adjunct faculty member and in various leadership roles within the School’s J. Willard O’Brien American Inn of Court.    

“Villanova Law prepared me well to succeed as a lawyer, but it also instilled the importance of service to the legal profession and to the broader community,” Tom said. “Both Kathleen and I are energized in our professional lives by our work with the organized bar and legal services organizations.  We encourage law students and newly admitted lawyers to join and take advantage of the many benefits and useful resources and networking opportunities bar association involvement can provide.”

“At Villanova, we not only train our graduates to be outstanding lawyers, but we also provide them with the skills to be leaders," said John Gotanda, Dean of the Villanova University School of Law. “It therefore comes as no surprise that Villanova lawyers have a longstanding tradition of assuming leadership roles in their firms, companies, government and communities.”

Villanova University School of Law congratulates Rachel Branson, Kathleen Wilkinson and Tom Wilkinson for their service to the legal community and is proud to have them serving as inspiring leaders for the School and its students.