Vince Pompo, an attorney at Lamb McErlane, spoke with VISTA Today about growing up in Ridley Township, where he walked to school every day and was given the freedom to explore Delaware County with his friends. As a youngster, he participated in a number of activities, including editing his high school yearbook and performing in its theater program.
Pompo also discussed his pre-law curriculum at Penn State, attending American University in Washington, D.C., for law school, what drew him to Lamb McErlane, and the work he performs as a board member of several nonprofits.
Where did you grow up, Vince?
I was born in Philadelphia in 1957 and grew up in Ridley Township, Delaware County the youngest of three children. My mother was a homemaker and my father an accountant for the United States Postal Service.
What memories do you have of growing up in Ridley?
Even though it was part of the sprawling Delaware County suburbs, Ridley Township had a small town feeling. I walked to school, in fact, I never took a school bus. My parents gave me a lot of leeway to do whatever I wanted to do. My friends and I would ride our bikes all over the place, play in the woods and explore stream valleys. Despite growing up in a densely populated area, I had an incredible connection to the environment.
What was your first job?
My first job was working at the Lansdowne Animal Hospital. I heard my parents talking about their friends whose children had gone on to become doctors and lawyers, and sensed becoming a professional was a way of bettering myself. We had a dog, so it was only natural to think that becoming a veterinarian-type professional might be a good fit.
Lansdown was pretty far from Ridley. How did you get to work?
I walked from my house to McDade Boulevard where I caught a Red Arrow bus to the Sharon Hill Trolley which I took to Lansdown Avenue. I became a commuter at 15!
What lessons did you take from the experience working for the Vet?
Working for the Vet, I got a sense of being rewarded for hard and competent work. There was another kid I worked with who was a nice guy but a bit of a smart alec who was always looking to cut corners. I was a straight arrow. After I had been there a month or two and having received two raises, the Vet admonished me not to tell the other kid about the raises. I got the message that being a smart alec and cutting corners wasn’t going to get me to where I need to be.
Did you play any sports in high school?
I didn’t; I was not sports oriented. Instead, I was very active in everything except athletics. Throughout junior and senior high, I was a member of every club I could join; I was on the student newspaper, the yearbook editor my senior year and active in my high school’s theater program.
What enjoyment did you take from being so involved in so many activities?
I was doing something and making something happen. Whether it was writing an article for the newspaper, editing the yearbook or acting in a play people came to and enjoyed, I felt the sense of accomplishment, and I fed on that stuff. The collective experience gave me a lot of confidence and helped me overcome a bit of my shyness. Even today, I feed on being involved and taking on leadership roles.
What kind of music did you listen to in high school?
In high school, I didn’t listen to a lot of music and pretty much went with the flow. That all changed when I got to college! I discovered and fell in love with Bruce Springsteen and his loud, vibrant genre of music.
Where did you go to college?
I was one of the top ten students in my graduating class, so I had my pick of schools. My older sister had gone to Penn State, and Penn State’s tuition and fees were within my parent’s price point and what they could afford. I applied to other schools including Temple and Villanova, but my parents made their preference for Penn State clear, so that’s where I went.
Was Penn State a good fit?
I loved Penn State! I had come from a big high school, so Penn State’s size didn’t faze me. I got into an “Interest House” dorm, which at the time was the only coed dorm on campus. My dorm mates were incredibly bright people, who worked hard but also knew how to throw a great party. It was a nurturing environment where you could party and have fun, but with great support to work hard at your studies and do well.
When did you decide to focus on a career in law?
In high school when I discovered I did better in English and History than Biology and Chemistry. In college I followed a Pre-Law curriculum which allowed me to choose courses including geography and geosciences that I thought complimented my interest in the environment.
Where did you go to Law School?
I finished Penn State in three years and one trimester. I took off the remaining year to work at Valley Forge National Historical Park which not only brought me into the wonderful world of Chester County but gave me a sense for the County’s deep historical and natural resources as well. I went to the Washington College of Law which is a part of American University in Washington D.C. Washington College of Law had an excellent administrative law program, which today is better known as regulatory law.
What brought you back to Pennsylvania after Law School?
In my third year of law school, I wrote a letter to Tim Weston, an associate deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources in Harrisburg who had written several articles about public water law. In the letter, I told him I was interested in his work and asked his advice on breaking into environmental law. It turns out a federal policy focused on creating hydroelectric power at low-head dams had created a need at the DER for a lawyer with my background to file hydroelectric license applications with FERC at those dams. Happily, I became that person.
All this happened within weeks of Nick DeBenedictis becoming the Secretary of DER in the Dick Thornburgh administration. About a week after I started, all of the DER lawyers were summoned to the Secretary’s our office to meet Nick. Each of us were introduced him. He comes to me and says in a voice loud enough for all my colleges to hear, ‘Vince Pompo, you’re from Ridley Park! I’m from Lansdowne!’ We immediately started having this little chat about Delaware County. His comments were a show stopper in the room. I was the new kid that no one knew and all the sudden the Secretary is paying attention to me.
Over time, my assignments took me deeply into policy issues with the Secretary’s office, and I had the honor of first hand interactions with an extremely talented and effective chief executive officer.
What brought you to Chester County?
I felt a need to broaden my legal experience, and felt that should include litigation experience. I took a job in DER’s Philadelphia litigation office and did litigation for three years. After three years, I knew I didn’t want to become a career government lawyer but wasn’t sure where I wanted to practice. I interviewed with several Center City and West Chester firms. At that same time, Jim McErlane at Lamb McErlane was looking for an environmental attorney who could handle complicated regulatory, environmental and permitting issues for some long-time clients. Lamb McErlane seemed like a good fit.
What was there about Lamb McErlane that drew you there?
The client base, including the municipal authorities as well as the townships they had as established clients appealed to me. At Penn State, a mentor recommended I read a book about “doing well by doing good”. The author’s theme was that focusing on work with the public interest at heart, would naturally result in personal economic rewards.
My professional career has worked out that way. While I do have private clients, most of my clients are public entities. I understand the challenges public officials face and why they need to be responsive to their constituents. Even though most of my clients are boroughs, townships, and authorities, they have to face the core legal issues that any business faces. Lamb McErlane is uniquely positioned to address these issues for public as well as private businesses.
Looking forward, Vince, what are the challenges in front of Lamb McErlane?
We would like to continue to leverage our municipal experience to continue to expand our reach at a competitive price to government entities beyond Chester County. I represent the Pottstown Borough Authority in Montgomery County and just obtained my first municipal authority in Lancaster County.
We are doing expanded work in my home town area, Delaware County, particularly for private businesses as they deal with challenges they are experiencing with their local municipalities. I’ve built up a reputation that I know what I’m doing when it comes to municipal work, and that I know how to help my clients achieve their goals without strong arming the municipality.
I like getting involved in cutting edge issues that are interesting, hot and involve my background and experience. For instance, I’m helping a Southern Chester County municipality divest of its public sewer system. Act 12 of 2016 changed the way the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission can analyze and approve an acquisition of municipal water or sewage systems by public utilities. I’m helping this municipality negotiate the sale of its system to a public utility, and obtain the first Act 12 approval in the state for a $30M transaction. The initiative brings together all my municipal, water and regulatory experience to bear.
What about you personally? What do you do outside of work?
Since early the 2000’s, I have served as a township supervisor in East Bradford Township. We were the first township in Pennsylvania to implement the open space tax and are known for our open space and trail program. Over 60 percent of our municipality is preserved! Our residents love it, the township is a great place to live, and I’m very proud to have had a role in this, and to serve on the Board of Supervisors.
I also serve on several nonprofit boards including Lundale Farms, the Northern Chester County farm preserved by Eleanor & Sam Morris. The farm’s focus is encouraging sustainable agriculture on its land. The farm leases to several individual farmers all cultivating different crops. This has been a fantastic experience to delve into agriculture and farming issues as well, both hot topics these days.
Having grown up in Delaware County and watching relatively small parcels of land where my friends and I played as kids turned into mini townhouse developments, I appreciate the importance of preserving and protecting open space, and promoting sustainable development. I enjoy helping municipalities promote development on land where it should be promoted and to do exactly the opposite on parcels that must be protected.
Along with my husband Bob, I enjoy maintaining and expanding our gardens at our home in East Bradford, and relish our down time at our beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Finally, Vince, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
At my first job out of law school, I was thrown into a highly publicized, hard fought whistle blowing case at the DER. It was a traumatic experience for me as a young lawyer. I felt all alone and was an absolute mess. I spoke to Bill Oberdorfer, my supervisor at the time, and told him how frustrated, overwhelmed and isolated I felt. Bill first asked me what the next step was in the case. I replied that once the hearing transcripts were received which would take at least a month, the next step was to draft the post-hearing fillings. Bill asked if there was anything I could do on the case in the interim, and I replied there was nothing. Bill advised that since there was nothing I could do until the transcripts came in, I should just forget about it until then. He advised it would be difficult, but put the case behind me and move on with my life, and get involved in other projects, until the time came when I would have to pick it up again.
This was great advice that I follow today, and have passed on to younger lawyers. Practicing law can be stressful at times; there’s a lot of stuff that happens. When something happens, and there’s a crisis, I’ve always ask myself, ‘what can I do right now?’ If there’s something I can do, I do it. If not, I’m not going to dwell on it and move on to something else where I can make an impact, until of course I need to pick it up again.