For James Helm, the founder and owner of TopDog Law, philanthropy opened the door to creating a deeper connection with his clients in some of the most vulnerable communities in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
Helm, who during his early adulthood struggled with painkiller dependence, understands how an opportunity could change the lives of youth struggling with substance abuse, gun violence, or economic hardship. Today, this Philadelphia-native attorney works hand-in-hand with organizations supporting at-risk youth in inner-city Philadelphia.
“Most of our clientele lives in inner-city Philadelphia, in communities with many economic necessities,” said Helm during a recent interview. “What has been very fulfilling about running TopDog Law is the possibility to work directly with vulnerable communities and bring help and opportunities to where they live.”
Almost three years after founding TopDog Law, Helm has scaled his firm into one of the most recognized injury law firms in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. TopDog Law’s main office in the Olney section of Philadelphia, and he has two other satellite offices in the Philadelphia suburbs. Over the past years, Helm and his team have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of injury victims across Pennsylvania.
Helm has made philanthropy a central pillar of his firm’s social mission. His work representing accident victims in Philadelphia’s most vulnerable neighborhoods allowed him to witness these communities’ economic and social needs.
In a recent video interview, Helm discussed TopDog Law’s social mission and his commitment to leveraging his firm’s success to support community centers and organizations impacting the lives of at-risk youth in Philadelphia.
Helm is not at odds with struggle. Before becoming the owner of a thriving seven-figure law firm, Helm fought a years-long battle against prescription-painkiller dependence. With the support of mentors and a resilient determination, he managed to complete his joint graduate degree in law and business at Rutgers University and overcame his addiction.
After opening TopDog Law in 2019 and scaling it into a city-wide renowned injury law firm, Helm felt naturally inclined to help those who struggled with substance abuse like him. However, his close interactions with economically vulnerable communities in inner-city Philadelphia inspired him to change the scope of his social mission.
“Because of my past experience with painkiller dependency, when I decided to do philanthropy work, I first thought about communities struggling with drug addiction,” narrated Helm. “But, through my work at TopDog Law, working with clients mostly from inner-city Philadelphia, I realized how many necessities they had outside of their legal matters.”
Helm describes how many of his clients lack the means to cover some of their basic necessities. Limited economic opportunities, a weak social safety net, and widespread gun violence keep most inner-city residents submerged in poverty.
As Helm explored how to give back to his community, he had the opportunity to meet activist Ryan Harris, the founder of As I Plant This Seed. This non-profit organization runs the North-Philadelphia community center and provides hundreds of youth access to education, preventing them from engaging in gun violence or juvenile delinquency.
“More of the grant money to counter gun violence should be directed to people like [Ryan], but unfortunately, it isn’t,” commented Helm. “So, when I met him, I thought, ‘what if we leverage our network of attorneys and doctors in Philadelphia to figure out a way to help him.’”
In 2020, Helm partnered with As I Plant a Seed in a holiday drive for the first time. During this first fundraising event, he and his firm helped raise over $15,000 for the North Philadelphia community center. Helm almost quadrupled this amount the following year, raising over $59,000.
In 2021, “we raised over $59,000 in our holiday drive to support As I Plant This Seed’s work with at-risk teens in Philadelphia,” said Helm. “Gun violence is plaguing Philadelphia, and many of the people committing these crimes are at-risk youth. [As I Plant This Seed] gives them a positive influence and provides them love and a safe space, working as a proactive prevention measure for gun violence.”
Helm recognizes that his clients in low-income communities across Philadelphia were critical for his firm’s rapid success. Nowadays, as TopDog Law grows into one of Philadelphia’s preeminent injury law firms, Helm maintains his commitment to giving back to the community and aiding organizations that support teens in the city’s most vulnerable areas.
This experience “taught me that struggle is struggle no matter what,” concluded Helm. “My personal struggle was with addiction and recovery, but I want to help other people in our city who are struggling with other real-life issues.”
By Juan Sebastian Restrepo,
With Artistic Initiative Agency