Alumni News

Melvin Hirshman ’55 - Championing Maryland’s Legal Community

By, Betty Lynne Leary

When Melvin Hirshman ’55 took the reins as bar counsel of Maryland’s fledgling Attorney Grievance Commission in January 1981, there were three attorneys on staff and one open position that needed to be filled. Within two weeks, two of the three attorneys quit.

“I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into,” Hirshman recalls laughing. “My wife told me I should look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. She reminded me that I’d always wanted to have my own law firm and hire my own attorneys. Here was an opportunity to do just that.”

Hirshman’s inauspicious beginning as bar counsel led to a storied career in which he served as the watchdog and champion of Maryland’s legal community. He retired last June after almost 30 years of overseeing the discipline of Maryland lawyers and, in some cases, finding alternatives to discipline. During his tenure, Maryland’s cadre of lawyers grew from 10,000 to more than 34,000.

“The Maryland bar is an excellent bar,” Hirshman says. “Over the years, as the number of bar members increased, the number of grievances went down exponentially.” Hirshman notes that many grievances arise from a lack of communication and that with so many electronic devices at a lawyer’s fingertips, keeping a client informed is pretty easy.

“Communication with a client is so important,” he stresses. “Even to just say that there’s nothing new to report.”

Hirshman nurtured an interest in ethics from the early days of his career. He kept copies of the original Canons of Ethics and enjoyed studying the particular ethical problems faced by litigation attorneys.

“It’s an interesting field because it crosses every area of practice,” Hirshman explains. “Now they even offer ethics classes in law school.” Ethics classes aren’t the only things that have changed since Hirshman walked into the Washington College of Law more than 50 years ago.

“I just walked right in and registered,” he says chuckling. “There was no LSAT in those days, not nearly as many applicants, and tuition was $900 a year!” Hirshman enjoyed law school at WCL describing it as a valuable learning experience with small classes and a wonderful group of professors. And while students today have much more to choose from in the curriculum than did Hirshman, he doesn’t envy the price tag that comes with it.

 “It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten so expensive,” he says.

As the reality of retirement sets in, Hirshman has plans to travel with his wife and spend time with his children and grandchildren. He is also entertaining ideas such as providing expert witness testimony and teaching ethics on the college level.

Hirshman reflects on his career noting he is proud not only of the work that created a body of interesting disciplinary cases, but also of a number of colleagues who turned into very excellent, ethical lawyers.

“I tried to do it every day for as long as I could,” he says. “And to borrow words from a Supreme Court justice, I did the best I could with whatever God-given talents I received. Hopefully I made more friends than enemies.”