The American Law Institute celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and took time to highlight the impact lawyers from Western Pennsylvania have had on ALI at a recent event held on October 3rd at the Joseph F. Weis Jr. United States Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. Among the notable speakers at the event were Judge Thomas M. Hardiman (Third Circuit), Chief Judge Mark R. Hornak (W.D. Pa.), Judge Joy Flowers Conti (W.D. Pa.) and Professor Ron Brand (University of Pittsburgh School of Law). At the event, a notable ALI founding member honored was George E. Alter, a prominent figure in the early American legal world and a named partner of one of SGK’s predecessor firms, Alter, Wright, and Barron. As important as he was to the legal world at large, he was equally, if not more, important to us here at SGK for his contributions and stature as a key member of SGK’s predecessor firm. One of SGK’s main Conference Rooms is named in honor of George Alter to this day.
The ALI has been involved in important legal projects throughout the years, notably publishing Restatements of Law and model codes like the Uniform Commercial Code and the Model Penal Code. They seek to produce scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law. The founders of ALI thought that the law is unnecessarily uncertain and complex and their mission to simplify the law has endured throughout the years.
George began his legal studies inauspiciously, graduating from public school and studying short-hand and typewriting at night school. After becoming a stenographer, he took up the study of law in the office of William Yost, Esq. and was admitted to practice on December 16, 1893. George began to quickly grow his practice, but he never forgot his humble beginnings. Even before the creation of the ALI, George was working to revise and simplify the law. He worked on revising Pennsylvania tax and corporation law in 1911 and helped codify the law of decedents’ estates in 1915. In 1923, he helped form ALI and was Chairman of the Committee on Membership by 1924 and became a member of the Executive Committee in 1932.
George’s work did not begin and end with ALI and revisions of the law, as he was also a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for three consecutive terms, being elected the Speaker of the House in 1913. During his time in the House, he was the chief sponsor of many bills, including one that outlined protections for minor children. As Speaker, he presided over Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 17th Amendment, allowing for the direct election of Senators. George then served as the Attorney General of Pennsylvania and after his term was over, ran a campaign for governor with a slogan that paid homage to his simple upbringing: “From Farm Boy to Leadership.”
Throughout his life, George exemplified values that all lawyers should hold. Most importantly, he believed that the law should be accessible and understandable to all people. Our firm is immensely proud to be associated with such a pioneer and honored that ALI chose to highlight his accomplishments as they look back on their 100 years of groundbreaking work.