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William J. Phelan, IV

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William J. Phelan, IV
Litigation Partner | Member, Cordell Appellate Practice Division

About William J. Phelan, IV, Litigation Partner | Member, Cordell Appellate Practice Division

Philadelphia family law attorney William (Bill) J. Phelan, IV has a host of experience and accolades.

Both prior to and during his time at Cordell & Cordell, Mr. Phelan has appeared in hundreds of hearings on behalf of his clients, and his efforts secured results that have provided both financial security and peace of mind for those who had little hope until he took their case.

Domestic relations matters offer a plethora of options and issues that Mr. Phelan is experienced to handle, whether he is helping his clients to understand their case, negotiating and communicating with the opposing side, or meticulously preparing for and litigating a case at trial.

Mr. Phelan is experienced in handling all manner of appeals for family law cases, specifically handling various matters in Pennsylvania’s appellate courts. He is a member of an elite team of Cordell Appellate attorneys and regularly works with counsel in the firm across the United States to consult and assist on family law appeals.

“I enjoy working with my clients, who are usually in a difficult position in their lives, to help them reach a resolution that is not only in their favor, but also allows them to put their minds at ease and continue on with their daily lives,” Mr. Phelan said.

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Mr. Phelan is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


Mr. Phelan graduated magna cum laude from The Catholic University of America where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Civilizations and then a Master of Arts in Congressional and Presidential Studies (Politics). He earned his Juris Doctor, with a certificate in Law and Public Policy, from The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. During law school, Mr. Phelan served as a Senior Editor for The Journal of Contemporary Health Law & Policy. 

Mr. Phelan attended the American Bar Association Family Law Trial Advocacy Institute.

Professional Experience

Mr. Phelan was previously a partner with a small law firm where he represented individuals in family law, employment law, Social Security benefits, general civil litigation, and disability rights cases.

Mr. Phelan was appointed by D.C. Superior Court to serve on the Family Court’s Mental Health Panel and Mental Habilitation Panel, assisting individuals with disabilities in the civil court system, including those who have been involuntarily committed due to suspected mental health issues.

He was a former staff attorney for the American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights, one of the nation’s premier organizations for disability rights and disability law.


Mr. Phelan is a member of the following professional legal organizations:

    • Doris Jonas Freed Matrimonial American Inn of Court, President (2021-2022); Executive Board Member (2017-2023)
    • Pennsylvania Bar Association
      • Family Law Section
      • Disability Services Committee, Chair (2020-2025)
      • Nominations Committee (2022, 2024)
      • Appellate Advocacy Committee
    • Delaware County Bar Association
      • Family Law Section
      • Judicial Selection/Retention Committee
    • District of Columbia Bar Association
    • Brehon Law Society  (a legal organization comprised of attorneys and judges of Irish ancestry)
      • Councilmember (2023 – Present)

From 2020 to 2022, Mr. Phelan served as President of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities Appeal of Greater Philadelphia. He served on this Board since 2016. During his leadership, the Appeal raised millions of dollars to provide for services throughout the Philadelphia region, benefiting over 180 ministries and programs and helping initiatives such as domestic violence support, childcare, retirement living, and homelessness prevention and assistance.

Mr. Phelan was selected to serve on the La Salle Leadership Council, a select group of alumni who volunteer to help further the mission and strategic objectives of his alma mater, La Salle College High School.

He sits on the board of advisors for Alpha Delta Gamma Educational Foundation, a national education non-profit organization, as well as the board of directors for Alpha Delta Gamma Capital City Alumni Association.


  • In 2019 and 2023, Mr. Phelan was selected for the Irish Legal 100, an annual compilation of the most distinguished legal professional in the United States of Irish ancestry.
  • In 2023, the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Disability Services Committee received the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Award for Outstanding Leadership in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, under Mr. Phelan’s leadership.
  • The Appellate Lawyers selected Mr. Phelan in 2022 for its collection of leading appellate lawyers from across the country based on the results of peer nominations, in-depth research, and client feedback.
  • Mr. Phelan was recognized in 2016-17  and 2022 as a Pennsylvania Rising Star in the family law practice area by Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters rating service of outstanding lawyers. He was recognized as a Rising Star from 2014 through 2017 in both Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
  • In 2016, the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys named Mr. Phelan one of the 10 Best Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction in Pennsylvania.
  • Mr. Phelan was named one of the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys’ Top 10 Under 40 Attorneys for the state of Pennsylvania for 2016.
  • In 2016, Mr. Phelan was named to The National Advocates Top 100 List. The list recognizes the Top 100 attorneys from each state or region who serve individuals and families needing attorneys to represent them in the American legal system.
  • Who’s Who Among Law Professionals (Montclair), 2010-12
  • G.P. Smith Award for Exceptional Dedication to Journal of Contemporary Health Law & Policy

Publications/Speaking Engagements

    • “Legal Update – A Year in Review” at Pennsylvania Family Law From A to Z, virtual CLE, National Business Institute, Apr. 16, 2024
    • “Child Custody and Support: Current Issues and Solutions” at Family Law Practice Tips 2024 virtual CLE, National Business Institute, Feb. 26, 2024
    • “Significant PA Appellate Court Cases 2023 – Webcast,” presenter, Pennsylvania Bar Institute, Aug. 31, 2023
    • “Pennsylvania Family Law 2022 Appellate Review,” presenter, Pennsylvania Bar Association Appellate Advocacy Committee’s Lunch & Learn Series, Jan. 26, 2023
    • “Hot Topics in Disability Accommodations Law,” moderator, Pennsylvania Bar Institute online CLE, Aug. 2, 2022
    • “How Appealing: Tips, Considerations, and Basics of Appeals for the Family Law Litigator,” presenter, Cordell & Cordell Domestic Litigation Forum, Apr. 15, 2022
    • “Pennsylvania Divorce Law 101 – Restraining Orders,” virtual CLE presentation,, Nov. 1, 2021
    • “Celebrating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” moderator, Pennsylvania Bar Institute online CLE, November 12, 2020
    • Mr. Phelan appeared on RVN-TV’s program “Dr. Sue & You” on July 15, 2020, to discuss the various ways family law has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • “Family Law Clients with Disabilities: Identifying Issues and Providing Solutions,” 42 Pennsylvania Family Lawyer 50-52 (2020)
    • Mr. Phelan was on the faculty for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s 2018 Family Law Institute.
    • “United States Supreme Court, Citing Federal Pre-Emption, Blocks State Courts’ Ability to Indemnify Non-Military Spouse for Decrease in Share of Military Pension upon Military Member’s Receipt of V.A. Disability Payments; Case Note: Howell v. Howell, 137 S.Ct. 707 (U.S. 2017),” 40 Pennsylvania Family Lawyer 25-27 (2018)
    • “Recognizing and Respecting Disability Rights in Family Law Cases,” presenter, Doris J. Freed American Inn of Court, Feb. 13, 2018
    • “Contempt of Court and Family Law Cases,” presenter, The Bucks County American Inn of Court, Nov. 27, 2017.
    • Book review, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Vol. 41, No. 1 (2013)
    • “Issues on Qualifying for the Bar,” organizer and presenter, tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, MD, Apr. 19, 2012
    • “How to Represent Social Security Claimants with Mental & Physical Disabilities,” moderator, ABA online CLE course, August 24, 2011
    • “Kicking Down the Door to Employment I: Of Mentors and Schedule A,” presentation, American University Washington College of Law, “Assisting Law Students with Disabilities in the 21st Century,” Mar. 10, 2011
    • “Goal III Report: A report on the status of the participation of persons with disabilities in the American Bar Association and its divisions, sections, and forums.” (eds. 2008-2012)
    • “Comments from the American Bar Association on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations,” to U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 35 Mental & Physical Disability L. Rep. 15 (2011)
    • The Second National Conference on the Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities: A report from the American Bar Association for the Legal Profession (2009), Co-Editor; “Statistical and Other Information on Lawyers with Disabilities: A New Beginning Amidst Gaps and Unanswered Questions,” with John W. Parry
    • “Best Practices for Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining a Diverse Legal Staff,” presentation, National Disability Rights Network, Training and Advocacy Support Center Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD, Mar. 16, 2009
    • “Ignored No Longer: Contributions of the Common Law of Agency to Principal-Agency Theory and Congressional Leadership.” 45 Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 235-254 (2008); presentation, Pennsylvania Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Kutztown, PA, Mar. 2007
    • “Political Gerrymandering After LULAC v. Perry: Considering Political Science for Legislative Action.” 32 Seton Hall Legislative Journal 89-121 (2007)

    He has also contributed articles and Ask a Lawyer responses to and


William J. Phelan, IV
Litigation Partner | Member, Cordell Appellate Practice Division
Real-Life Experiences
Reviews from Our Past Clients
“It took years for me to come to a decision to end my marriage. I sought a law firm that is focused and prepared for trial if need be, and seeks to give me the best outcome possible. Cordell and Cordell has performed very well and is very supportive during this difficult time. I have full confidence in my representation and recommend them.”
– Mason B.
“Divorce is hard enough without trying to find a Lawyer who will truly work for you. I had several conversations with Lawyers that seemed only interested in winning somehow. No one wins in a divorce. I should have went to Cordell & Cordell first so I would have avoided a lot of headaches. I met a group of people that genuinely care for you.”
– Mark L.
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