It’s a rare feat when a Northeast Pennsylvania lawyer gets elected president of one of the major statewide attorneys organizations.

When three of them manage to head up the three biggest at once, it’s really something.

Such is the current unique situation for attorneys Francis X. O’Connor, Malcolm L. MacGregor and Matthew P. Keris, who, respectively, serve as presidents of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association) and the Pennsylvania Defense Institute.

Mr. O’Connor of Great Bend Twp. has been in his position since May. Mr. MacGregor of North Abington Twp. has been in his since June, while Mr. Keris of South Abington Twp. has had his since July.

All three are year-long positions.

“To be elected by our peers to represent our respective organizations is something else,” Mr. Keris said, “because Pennsylvania lawyers in general are the best in the country.”

Not just a title

Mr. O’Connor is the 120th president of the 28,000-member PBA. He’s the first NEPA-based attorney to hold the post in about two decades.

The title is no mere honorarium but rather one that requires a fair bit of work. According to Mr. O’Connor, the time he puts into his Great Bend practice has been cut in half since he became PBA president.

“I describe myself as the chief cheerleader for the Pennsylvania Bar Association,” said Mr. O’Connor, 65. “My job is to get out there and tell people the benefits of belonging to the bar association.”

Among Mr. O’Connor’s biggest initiatives as president has been to expand the Wills for Heroes program to include military veterans along with police, firefighters and EMTs for whom it already provides free legal services.

The veterans’ initiative will continue for the next couple years, and Mr. O’Connor would love to see every lawyer in the state eventually participate in some way.

“Any veteran can call the 800 number for the PBA, and we will refer them to a lawyer in their community,” he said. “All I ask is a lawyer do something pro bono for a vet, whether (it be) a will or power of attorney. Anything they can that their practice entails. ... It’s something we need to do for veterans.”

Online law

Mr. MacGregor, 50, is the PAJ’s 46th president. There have been others from NEPA, he said, but they’ve been few and far between.

For the first six months of his tenure, Mr. MacGregor also met his duties as Lackawanna Bar Association president.

“Mike McDonald was a saint during that period,” said Mr. MacGregor with a laugh, referring to his law partner.

The PAJ serves about 2,500 trial attorneys throughout the state. Among other services, it provides computerized resources that allow members to share information, “almost like a little virtual law firm that helps people along in their practice,” Mr. MacGregor said.

Like the PBA and PDI, the PAJ works closely with lobbyists in Harrisburg on issues important to attorneys. It’s also heavily involved in the End Distracted Driving campaign, which a PAJ member founded after his daughter was killed by a driver who was texting.

“I feel lucky to do it. It’s a privilege,” said Mr. MacGregor, who is a candidate for the magisterial district judge position in the Abingtons. “It’s very humbling, and it also reinvigorates your pride in the profession to see people pitching in to volunteer.”

Room for improvement

In his role as the PDI’s 45th president, Mr. Keris, a shareholder in the Scranton office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, oversees a membership of civil-litigation defense attorneys and insurance professionals.

So far in his tenure, Mr. Keris, 43, has worked on improving the organization’s technological capabilities to meet the needs of its younger members and adhere to the virtual law firm model.

Annually, the organization gives out an award to its defense lawyer of the year. The last three have come from NEPA and, as part of the honor, the PDI makes a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice.

“The Children’s Advocacy Center was one that has benefited from it,” Mr. Keris said.

Mr. O’Connor said that when his tenure ends May 8, he hopes he can say he left the organization in better shape than when he came in. While lawyers often are bashed, the vast majority are hardworking people trying to serve their communities. And these groups are a good way for them to do that, all three attorneys agreed.

As Mr. O’Connor likes to tell new members of the bar association, “Your legacy isn’t how much money you make in your lifetime, but how much good that you do.”

“I’ve gone throughout the commonwealth, and I’ve had the chance to meet lawyers from bigger counties and smaller counties, and found they’re all really the same,” he said. “They’re trying to do what’s right for their clients.”