In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, 16-year-old Bernard Hirsh began taking pre-law courses at the University of Texas in Austin. Six years later, the eager law school graduate moved to Dallas in hopes of landing a job with a respected firm. What Hirsh found instead was a country reeling in financial hardship and on the brink of entering a war. He quickly discovered that there were few employment opportunities for lawyers and accepted alternative positions in the business world, took part in the Texas Defense Guard, and served as a special agent for the U.S. War Food Administration. After World War II, Hirsh became president of Milliner’s Supply Company—a Dallas-based venture owned by his wife’s aunt and uncle—and remained a businessman with real estate interests until his retirement in 1982. Hirsh never practiced law in the formal sense, but the 98-year-old, who now lives in Las Vegas and spends his time reading, watching TV, socializing, and keeping up with the Longhorns and Cowboys, has maintained his membership in the State Bar of Texas and applied the lessons he learned during law school to various aspects of his life. The Texas Bar Journal spoke with Hirsh in July 2014. Why did you decide to go to law school? I was raised in Granger, Texas. It’s a small farming town, and as a youth, I used to maintain my parents’ yard. Across the street was the only attorney in the town, and he kept telling me how wonderful the law was. When I got to Austin, I went to the registrar, and he said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I have no earthly idea.’ He said, ‘Well you’ve got to tell me something so I can assign you to the proper courses.’ So I said, ‘Well, I guess I want to be a lawyer.’ Had my neighbor been a veterinarian, I guess I would have been a veterinarian. He influenced me, indirectly, without my knowing it, in becoming a lawyer. After you graduated from law school, what was the next step? I went to Dallas to make my fortune. I had an uncle and aunt there, and I had been visiting during the summers. They were good to me, and I decided Dallas was my place. In 1939, when I graduated from UT, it was a depression, and the lawyers in Dallas were sitting in their offices with their feet on their desks. Only the big law firms were doing business; the smaller firms were just idle. I knocked on many doors, and I had a lot of trouble getting started. Dallas wasn’t ready for me yet. My wife had an aunt and an uncle in Dallas who had a business—it was established in 1911—and they did not have any children. When the war was over, they asked me if I would come into the business. I had been there about a year, and a law firm that had interviewed me a year before offered me a job. It was a fine little law firm—a business law firm—and I was tempted, but I was already six years past graduation by that time, and I decided that I better stay in business. However, shortly after going to Dallas, I did one name change that I had to appear in court and prepare for, and I did two adoptions for friends—pro bono, I would call it. I did it as an act of friendship. Did having a background in the law influence the way you did business? Oh yes, very much so. In handling real estate, I had to deal with contracts and leases and that sort of thing; that was very much involved. And my law helped me. However, I must tell you that I’ve had situations where I’ve had to have outside counsel—I didn’t want to be my own attorney. But it did help me to understand what the problems were, and I was astute enough to know when I needed a lawyer. Is there a reason that you decided to maintain your State Bar membership? Pride. I’m just proud of the fact that I am a law graduate of UT. The legal background gives me confidence, without being overconfident. I feel very happy that I made the choice that I did.
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