The city Law Department attorney works for the Housing Division.
When the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act two weeks ago, many of Linda Medley’s colleagues at work—like most people—wanted to talk about the landmark decision. Unlike most people, however, they actually held a brown-bag lunch that afternoon to dig into the details of the court’s 193-page opinion. They were compelled both personally and professionally: Like Medley, they’re all lawyers, employed by the city’s Law Department.
“I really wanted to go—I’m just too swamped here today,” Medley, 42, laments. “I’ll have to print it out and read it later.”
Indeed, Medley works for one of the busiest, most important and most scrutinized areas of the department. She’s a divisional deputy city solicitor in the Housing Division, handling contracts and providing counsel for the city as it seeks to sell or otherwise dispose of the nearly 10,000 vacant and abandoned properties it currently owns—a quarter of the estimated 40,000 such properties spread throughout Philadelphia. “What we do is a pretty involved process, but the idea is to eliminate blight and generate revenue for the city,” she says.
A self-described workaholic, Medley spends her days advising members of Philadelphia’s Vacant Property Review Committee in hearings to approve or deny applications from people who want to purchase empty lots next door to build a garden, or buildings they intend to turn into businesses or other commercial enterprises. Even the seemingly small transactions, she says, drive neighborhood transformation in ways city residents don’t always notice. “It may seem like nobody’s doing anything, but we are,” she says. “You look at places like the Temple area—you may drive around there one year and it looks all blighted and the next year or two all these little stores have popped up. It’s a whole involved plan that takes a long time to develop.”
Medley also drafts contracts to ensure applicants follow the many laws and regulations that go along with acquiring property from the city, and oversees the follow-up issues that arise. “There may be someone who bought a property and they usually have a year to start renovating or doing something with it and maybe they haven’t, so we need to address that,” she explains. “Or there could be someone who’s supposed to renovate a property and instead they sell it to someone for an enormous profit without having done a thing when they bought it from us for fair-market value. There’s a time frame in which you can’t do that, usually a year, and that’s specified in the deed.”
Growing up in Malvern, Medley became interested in law as a way to help people, ideally children, and to serve her community. After majoring in political science during her undergrad years at Rutgers, then graduating from Villanova law school, she spent several years clerking for judges and working as a research staffer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia before getting her “dream job” in 1999: a solicitor position with the city’s Law Department, representing the Department of Human Services. The work was both gratifying and difficult—Medley represented DHS in cases of children being taken out of their homes due to physical or sexual abuse, termination of parental rights, or efforts to keep kids in their homes but get them crucial social services.
“You really have to love helping people or you’re gonna burn out quickly,” she says. “It’s horrible when you see a child with marks on them, but you have to gather the evidence and there’s a process for getting that child out that takes time. Nobody wants to hear that, though.”
Still, she says that the happier stories—kids successfully placed into foster care, for example—made it worthwhile.
After representing DHS for more than a decade, Medley was promoted and moved into the Law Department’s Housing Division last year. “It may not be as direct, but I feel like I’m still helping children and families by helping get rid of blight and making their communities better places to live,” she says.
Even when she’s off the clock, Medley’s still got her job and her personal mission on her mind as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division, a volunteer post she’s held since 2009. The WLD’s primary objective, she explains, is to be a resource for women of color in Philadelphia’s legal community, whether that’s helping in obtaining continuing legal education or professional development, or providing networking opportunities. It’s also an avenue for mentoring young black girls in the city, to show them that a career in law can be a reality.
And while private law practice and its personal financial appeal always beckons, Medley says that working for the city is where she wants to be. “At a [private] firm, you’re often thinking about what’s best for an individual, [but] when you work for a city, you’re thinking about all the citizens, and I’m one of them. To work for the government, you have to want to be of service to others and think about the bigger picture, and that’s what’s important to me.”
Workin’ It is written by staff writer Michael Alan Goldberg, who peeks into the lives of working professionals each week.