Distinguished Alumni Profiles: Dave Sykes (Part Two)

Last year we profiled the life and career of alumni Dave Sykes. As a partner at Duane Morris, Sykes spearheaded the development of the practice of bankruptcy law on a national scale. In addition to his work for the firm, he also organized the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Conference, and the non-profit Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project that provides pro-bono bankruptcy assistance to needy Philadelphians. We asked friends and former colleagues to share their memories of Sykes on the 10-Q as a tribute to his life and legacy. The responses we received were too numerous to be confined to one 10-Q post. So without further adieu, here’s part two.  

– Hon. Marjorie O. Rendell, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit 


Dave Sykes was very active in his community, and a widely known civic figure. He served as chairman of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan political watchdog group. And among the legal community he served as a charter fellow and past president of the American College of Bankruptcy. He was honored with the College’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008. He also served as a fellow of the American College of Investment Counsel and the American Bar Foundation, past chair of the American Bar Association Business Bankruptcy Committee’s Secured Creditors Subcommittee, and chair of the Business Law Section and the Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions of the Philadelphia Bar Association. In addition he remained very active in the Temple Law Alumni Association for many years.

Despite these many achievements, Sykes still found a way to support those less fortunate in his community. In 1992, he co- founded the non-profit Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project to help low-income families with bankruptcy assistance.

“I first met Dave Sykes in 1996 through the Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project (“CBAP”). He was a large firm attorney who practiced Ch. 11 Bankruptcy but he completely grasped the challenges of those individuals living in Philadelphia with inadequate incomes, and he understood the serious need for equal access to justice for all Philadelphians.” – Mary Ann Lucey, Executive Director, Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project

“Dave was a leader in founding CBAP in Philadelphia.  It was one of the first in the country and it remains one of the best–a national model. I had led the process of forming a different kind of bankruptcy pro bono program in Minnesota. Later several of us decided that this information should be made available in a publication to judges and bankruptcy lawyers everywhere. The work product: “How to Start a Pro Bono Program in Your Bankruptcy Court; A Starter Kit for Lawyers and Judges” was published by the ABA in 1994 and played a major role in the formation of bankruptcy pro bono programs elsewhere. Many, if not most bankruptcy lawyers and bankruptcy judges take their involvement in these programs for the provision of pro bono services as a natural part of their professional obligations.  Dave helped make it so. He helped change the culture of the bankruptcy bar.” – James L. Baillie, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.

“Dave wanted CBAP to succeed in order to properly assist our clients and he worked tirelessly to meet the demands of starting and maintaining a non-profit. I remember he unabashedly solicited financial contributions for CBAP from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Conference members and law firms with Financial Services departments.” – Mary Ann Lucey, Executive Director, Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project

“When I became a bankruptcy judge, Dave appeared before me representing an indigent consumer as part of the district’s pro bono Chapter 7 assistance program.  His respect for the court, and commitment to his client were in no way diminished by the circumstances– the amount at issue in the case, the complexity of the legal problem and the historic relationship with the judge whom he had taught so much.” – Judge Diane Weiss Sigmund (ret.)

Sykes also demonstrated a strong commitment to mentoring other lawyers throughout his career.

“As a young lawyer I had a case opposite of Dave. At that time he was the most well known member of our bar in Philadelphia and he was tremendously intimidating to me. He probably took me to the cleaners, but when the case was over he began to reach out to me to invite me to work on professional development issues. There was nothing in it for him.  We weren’t at the same firm; we had no school or social connection. He just seemed to want to help me make my way as a bankruptcy lawyer in Philadelphia.” – Joseph Dworetzky, Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller

“His mentorship of young lawyers was not limited to Duane Morris, his own firm. I feel as if he took me under his wing, despite the fact that we were likely to be on opposite sides of cases and, I suppose, even “competitors” in certain respects.  I can’t think of another attorney who was so selfless in bringing into his circle of friends and business colleagues lawyers from competing law firms, with no expectation of “reciprocity.” – Barry D. Kleban, Partner, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP

“I think that it is fair to say that much of what I learned about chapter 11, bankruptcy in general, and the art of developing consensus, I learned from Dave Sykes. Dave taught me that the best way to manage a case with competing and sometimes combative constituencies involved three basic elements:  candor, transparency and the ability to listen. These were tenets which I have tried hard to apply throughout my practice in every case.” – Michael Bloom, Of Counsel, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

As well as a strong commitment to golfing.

“I was always amazed that David belonged to five golf clubs.  With all of his activities I could not understand how he had time to play at one, let alone five.” – Michael Temin, Fox Rothschild LLP

“Among the best [memories I have of Dave] are my golf rounds with him. He was not the best golfer, but he truly loved the game. And I loved playing with him. He usually would just laugh on his missed shots (he laughed a lot) and he would react with joy at his good ones, with much chatter between shots. He was a special man. It was an honor to know him.” – David G. Heiman, Partner, JONES DAY

In 2010 Sykes died after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer, which he faced stoically. He is survived by his family (including his wife, two married sons and five grandchildren of whom he was particularly proud), as well as by the memories of those who knew him.

“Dave’s contributions to bankruptcy law and the local bankruptcy bar, and indeed the legal profession, are legendary.” – Barry D. Kleban, Partner, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP

“The legal world lost a giant with Dave’s passing, but his spirit endures in the lives of countless lawyers, judges, professors, colleagues and friends affected by his unceasing generosity and good will.” – Rudolph DiMassa, Partner, Duane Morris LLP

“Dave Sykes is my ‘most unforgettable character’ as the Reader’s Digest feature goes, and as I mentor my law clerks and edit their work, I can’t help but recall the countless hours Dave spent mentoring me. I will never forget him.” – Hon. Marjorie O. Rendell, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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