Former Bar Counsel Melvin Hirshman, who served nearly 30 years as the chief administrative prosecutor of wayward Maryland attorneys, died Monday of lymphoma at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 85.
Hirshman became bar counsel in 1981, just six years after the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission was created to investigate and prosecute cases of lawyer misconduct. He retired in 2010.
Maryland’s top jurist, Mary Ellen Barbera, recalled Hirshman on Tuesday as “a leading force for assuring the accountability, diligence, and professionalism” of Maryland lawyers.
“Mel Hirshman will be remembered for upholding those high ethical standards that are required for the practice of law in our state,” added Barbera, chief judge of the Court of Appeals. “He served the people of Maryland with the same integrity, diligence, and professionalism our code of professional responsibility demands of all attorneys and augmented these high standards with a fierce commitment to public service. He will be missed.”
The current bar counsel, Lydia E. Lawless, did not serve with Hirshman and referred comment to her deputy, Raymond A. Hein, who was an assistant to Hirshman for 17 years.
“Mel served as bar counsel with distinction and unfailing dedication to the cause of professional responsibility for almost 30 years,” Hein said Tuesday. “He provided steady guidance to the office and leadership within the Maryland bar throughout his tenure.”
Glenn M. Grossman began working with Hirshman shortly after he took office in 1981, including the last 13 years as his deputy before succeeding him in 2010.
“I owe a lot to Mel,” said Grossman, who stepped down as bar counsel in January. “I was fairly young when I started and over the years he helped me to see the larger picture of the importance of professionalism to the bar and to the public. He encouraged me and the lawyers on the staff to spread the message of professionalism, as he did himself.”
Grossman added that Hirshman also deserves credit for overseeing attorney discipline during a period that saw massive growth in the number of Maryland attorneys, which had reached 34,506 by his retirement seven years ago. The number now stands at more than 39,000, according to commission data.
After serving as bar counsel, Hirshman advised attorneys on ethical matters, including that they should decline any client whose case they believed they could not diligently pursue.
“Every client is entitled to the same representation regardless of the enormity of the case,” Hirshman told The Daily Record in 2012. “Pauper to millionaire are entitled to the same representation, same diligence, same communication.”
Veteran attorney Alvin I. Frederick, who represents lawyers in trouble with bar counsel, called Hirshman “a gentle-hearted soul” despite having been a staunch enforcer of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct.
“While he may have appeared gruff to others, he always treated me fairly and always gave my clients an opportunity to be heard,” said Frederick, a principal at Eccleston and Wolf PC in Hanover.
“He was a guy who had empathy,” Frederick added. “He was a guy who did his job but he wasn’t heartless about it.”
Hirshman was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1955, the same year he graduated from American University’s Washington College of Law with high distinction. He joined the Maryland bar in 1965 and practiced on his own or with others for 25 years before becoming bar counsel.
Hirshman, a past president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, was “the face of Maryland’s disciplinary system for almost three decades,” said Grossman, now of counsel with Eccleston and Wolf. “He had a national reputation and had friends and colleagues across the country.”
Hirshman is survived by his wife, Nancy, four children and eight grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Kneseth Israel synagogue in Annapolis. Hirshman, who served in the U.S. Navy, will be interred at Crownsville Veterans Cemetery.