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Roads Taken & Not Taken - Richard Hirn '76

Many members of my class, ’76, became either lawyers or journalists. I think this had a lot to do with being at Haverford during the Watergate years of 1973-74, when lawyers and journalists seemed to have saved the Republic. We were all interested in the unfolding story of Watergate. In fact, the College closed for a day and 500 of us traveled to Washington to lobby for impeachment.

I chaired the Collection Committee during those years, and we even brought maverick Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to speak at Collection. I was fortunate to have lunch with him—a heady experience for an aspiring law student. Ralph Nader also came to visit; he was then known for being a crusading public interest lawyer rather than a political candidate. Harris Wofford, President Kennedy's Civil Rights Counsel, was President of Bryn Mawr at the time. I took his class on “Law and Civil Disobedience.” He was quite accessible and even helped me with a paper on civil rights in the Kennedy administration for Sid Waldman’s class on the Presidency. So, at least in the mid-seventies, there were many opportunities at Haverford that provided real insight about how the law could be used for social change.

Immediately after graduating, I went to American University Law School here in Washington, D.C. Classes at AU Law were relatively small and students were collaborative rather than competitive. The faculty was approachable and willing mentors—much like Haverford. I would soon learn in Legal Ethics class that the expectations of the Bar’s ethics code were similar to the Haverford Honor Code - including the responsibility to report other practitioners who violated the code.

After working for the National Labor Relations Board and a small law firm, I started my own practice just two years out of law school. This gave me the independence of conscience to take the cases and represent the clients in whose causes I believe. Since then, I have been representing labor unions and their members at the bargaining table, in arbitration, and in federal courts throughout the country and even overseas. I had the opportunity to litigate the first case of Hawaiian national origin discrimination and also successfully represented employees of the Panama Canal Commission who continued to be paid at lower Panamanian wage rates even after becoming naturalized American citizens.

Among my current clients is the Indian Educators Federation, the union which represents teachers on Indian reservations and other employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This spring, I won reinstatement for 18 members of New Mexico’s Northern Pueblos who lost their jobs when the BIA abolished their wildfire fighting crew. Last fall, I also won reinstatement for 20 faculty and staff members at the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, one of two Indian colleges operated by the BIA. I am currently litigating a case that will determine whether the Secretary of Interior must give Indians hiring preference for all positions that involve providing services to Indians.

I was once lectured by an older Friend that litigation is too confrontational and inconsistent with the Quaker values of conciliation and consensus. I don’t think he really understood what “the law” is. It is the non-violent alternative to dispute resolution, in which truth and reason substitute for might; and fully consistent with the principles of the College.

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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