Melvin Hirshman will retire as Bar Counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland - a station he has held for three decades - on June 30, 2010.
A giant in Maryland’s legal community is retiring after three decades of service as Bar Counsel. Melvin Hirshman, Maryland’s legendary Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC) Bar Counsel, has been responsible for attorney discipline and the investigation of complaints against Maryland attorneys for the last 29 years. His legacy to the legal community is his exceptional guardianship of Maryland attorneys.
The name Mel Hirshman is synonymous with “Bar Counsel” across Maryland’s legal community. He is an institution who has earned the respect of the state’s lawyers. Hirshman has always championed Maryland’s Bar as a “superb Bar” and believes his most meaningful role as Bar Counsel has been “keeping lawyers out of trouble.”
“He has always been fair,” states Alvin I. Frederick, a Partner with Eccleston & Wolf. “He kept the reputation of good lawyers intact by disposing of the few bad ones in the profession. Mel was interested in what was right. He has a good heart.”
Hirshman will bid farewell to the legal profession on June 30, 2010, and departs knowing “the number of Maryland lawyers who get involved with the disciplinary process has always been a very, very infinite decimal percentage of the total number of lawyers in Maryland’s Bar.” He is proud of this and the fact that “as the number of lawyers in the state steadily rises, the percentage of those involved with the AGC drops.”
is a real every day lawyer in every sense of the word. He knew what it was like to be a lawyer, knew the pressures we face every day, knew what it was like to have upset clients...and he never forgot it."
ALVIN I. FREDERICK
Hirshman arrived at the AGC in January 1981 to oversee the discipline of Maryland lawyers, prevent the unauthorized practice of law and, in some cases, review the conduct of lawyers to determine the need for alternatives to discipline. He has prosecuted cases of professional misconduct, considered petitions for reinstatements, reviewed escrow account overdrafts and opened conservatorships when an attorney passes away or abandons a practice with no one else to undertake the task.
“He has done his job admirably,” states Andrew Jay Graham, of the Baltimore-based firm Kramon & Graham, P.A. “I have handled numerous AGC cases over the years, working closely with Mel on many occasions, and have always respected him. He is honest, fair, hardworking and he does the right thing.”
Over the years, Hirshman has tried many disciplinary cases and argued a number of disciplinary cases before the Court of Appeals. He pushed numerous measures to advance protections for attorneys and their clients, including the overdraft notification program by banks for attorney trust fund accounts and record-keeping rules requiring attorneys to keep bank account statements and ledgers and perform monthly reconciliation activities.
“It has been a rewarding career, and I consider it a privilege that the AGC and the Court of Appeals selected me and allowed me to serve so long in this role,” Hirshman states, “but all good things come to an end at some point. I think this is my time.” He promises to help with a smooth transition for whomever becomes Bar Counsel, and hopes he or she enjoys longevity, too. Longevity is important in this position because an institutional memory is critical to the role of Bar Counsel. Plus, “I have been blessed with a very competent and professional staff who have done a great job.”
When Hirshman began in the ’80s, the state’s legal community was much smaller – 10,000 lawyers compared to today’s 35,000 – but other than the growing volume of lawyers, he feels “the law has remained the same, as it is always a little anachronistic in terms of catching up with society.” In terms of attorney discipline, he notes “attorneys engaging in litigation as opposed to non-litigation tend to be the ones who get involved in the AGC process.
“Litigation usually breeds acrimony, such as client against client, client’s lawyer against client’s lawyer,” contends Bar Counsel, “yet lawyers are supposed to stay professional and stay out of the mix. Many of these complaints arise from family law cases.”
But a new and growing trend that is of concern to Hirshman is the “serious number of complaints filed by inmates taking advantage of the public information act.” Prisoners complain about files and transcripts and, largely, ineffective counsel. “Of course, that has not been proven in post-conviction proceedings or in most appellate proceedings.”
Always mindful of attorneys, he cautions them on common grievance pitfalls. “Inadequate communication and lack of diligence draw the most complaints. Let your client know what is going on with his or her case or the fact that nothing is going on at the present time,” he advises. “And do what you promise to do for clients; they get very upset when a lawyer doesn’t do what he or she has promised. They complain. Lawyers are much better off if they can keep everything in writing because oral communication can sometimes be misconstrued.”
After graduating from Washington College of Law of the American University, Hirshman was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1955 and joined Maryland Bar’s in 1965. After practicing law as a solo and small firm practitioner in both jurisdictions for 25 years, he was appointed Bar Counsel in 1981. He has served as a faculty member for MICPEL, is a frequent presenter at MSBA’s Annual Meeting and has authored a column in the Maryland Bar Journal for several decades.
Hirshman was President of the National Organization of Bar Counsel (1988-89) and is a popular speaker at its semi-annual meetings. He has served on a committee to publish a manual for use of bar counsel and several committees examining the adoption of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the current Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct. Hirshman has also been a member of the faculty for six American Bar Association Professionalism Conferences and served on the Editorial Board of the Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct for many years.
Hirshman hopes to enjoy his retirement with tennis, courses at the community college to study chemistry and computers and a few trips out west. He will also take advantage of his role as Grandpa and attend more of his grandchildren’s sports activities. Most importantly, he will spend and enjoy time with Nancy, his wife of 38 years.
The legal community and MSBA congratulate Hirshman on his legacy. He will be missed. “Mel Hirshman brought empathy and sympathy to the Office of Bar Counsel,” Frederick declares. “Mel Hirshman is a real everyday lawyer in every sense of the word. He knew what it was like to be a lawyer; knew the pressures we face every day; knew what it was like to have upset clients; and he never forgot it.”
As Mel Hirshman departs, he leaves these words of wisdom to Maryland attorneys: “Keep up the good work, and always be professional.”