In the 1960s, he became an activist for the civil rights movement. He was present at the riots in Selma in 1965 and Watts Riots, and, in the pilot episode, he also mentions he heard Malcolm X speak. In 1963, he was awarded a scholarship to study at Princeton University, after which he went to Harvard Law School. In 1975, Philip was put on the board of the NAACP and was later awarded the Urban Spirit Award for his work in promoting civil rights. At first glance, Will had come to Bel Air with an attitude that because he came from West Philadelphia that he was hardened against anything and was dismissive of Phil and his family as too soft, until he is sternly rebuked by Phil, who reveals his past in seeing the turmoil that happened before Will was born and that it has been his hard work that has earned him a manor in Bel Air. Philip was also shown to have admired Ronald Reagan, namely because during the series run Reagan had retired from the presidency and moved into the same neighborhood as Philip's. Reagan was said to have declined party invitations until he appears at a traditional Christmas party of the Banks; ironically shown to be a friend of Hilary's.
At the beginning of the series, Philip is a lawyer with the firm of Firth, Wynn and Meyer (which Will humorously compares to Earth, Wind & Fire). In the third season, he is appointed to the judiciary; he becomes a judge after his ex-mentor, Judge Carl Robertson, who beat Philip by a landslide in the elections, dies suddenly, and the mayor appoints Philip to the position. Philip later considers making a deeper foray into politics, but decides against it when his wife disapproves.
After meeting and dating his future wife Vivian, he proposed to her while on live television during an episode of Soul Train. He claims to have been a lifelong fan of classical music, though Vivian rebuffs: "When we met, you were into James Brown!", which Philip rebuts by stating there is no law that says people cannot be fans of both.
Philip is a somewhat strict and gruff person, but he does have a softer side, and is an upstanding citizen. Nonetheless, his anger can get him into trouble at times, especially when he feels his image is being besmirched. Additionally, Philip can be financially greedy; he pays his butler Geoffrey a salary so low that Geoffrey quits after Philip gives him a mediocre additional annual raise, and only returns when Philip apologizes for taking him for granted and agrees to increase his salary, benefits and to hire more help during formal functions. In the series finale, when Geoffrey retires, Phil rewards him with both a large cash bonus and an expensive first class plane ticket to London, England. Similarly, while he always spoils Hilary, Philip refuses to increase the allowances of his children, although in later seasons he begins to tire of spending his hard-earned money on spoiling Hilary and becomes more gruff with Hilary to pay her own way in the world.
However, despite being a miser, Philip is a very caring and loving husband and father. He makes sure that he does what is best for all his children, including Will, for whom, despite being only related to him by marriage (and whom he sometimes grumbles about Will being a goof-off), he very much cares as his own son. Throughout the series, Philip has been there for his children in their time of need, which rubs off on Will as Will ultimately accepts Philip's children as the siblings he never had and sees that Philip is a genuine father-figure (as opposed to his true father). If anything, he will go out of his way to make sure his children make something of themselves. He will also fight fiercely to protect his family: When Will and Carlton were arrested for "stealing a car", when they were driving it for his law firm partner, Philip threatened to tie the police station up in "so much litigation that [their] grandchildren are going to need lawyers". He is overprotective of Ashley and has trouble with her aging, arguably as the youngest daughter he sees her as his "little girl".
A common occasion for humor on the show is Philip's portly shape and big appetite. Will commonly makes cracks about his girth, as does Geoffrey at times. Unfortunately, Philip's appetite has given him trouble and a heart attack.
Philip also reveals himself to be an amazingly adept pool player, showing his skill by out-hustling the pool shark who hustled Will at the pool hall. He has a personal cue stick, which he calls "Lucille", possibly after B.B. King's guitar, Lucille Ball, or Minnesota Fats' nickname for his pool cue.
"Oh my god, turkey… with pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes… butter drenched dressing… tiny onions… swimming in a sea of cream sauce… Sigh."
Phillip Banks was once a farmer living with his mother and father, when he got his scholarship for Princeton, he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. He was trained by later Superior Court Judge Robertson, who later became senile and Phillip took his job. Phillip only got his Superior Court job due to the fact that Judge Robertson won, but suffered a heart attack, which killed him. Philip often dispises his nephew whenever he acts inappropriate infront of important people or irresponsiby for his disobediance but deep down, he still acts like him when it comes to being stuck with him in town.