Ron Friedman: Forging a Path
Grateful Law School Alumnus Gives Back to UNM
By Michelle G. McRuiz
When Ronald (Ron) Friedman (’71 JD) thinks about what may have become of him if he hadn’t gotten into the UNM School of Law, he shudders. The year was 1968, a bad one for the country and a particularly bad one for him. On a chance visit to the school, Ron met Professor Frederick (Fred) Hart. One week later, he became a student. More than 40 years later, Ron clearly remembers how that meeting changed his world.
At age 23, Ron returned from Vietnam and began graduate school at Penn State. “I didn’t fit in very well,” he recalled. “And my overall situation deteriorated to the point where I wasn’t able to focus on anything.” He slept 18 hours a day. He was spat on by anti-war protestors. A lot was going on in his head, and hardly any of it was positive.
Ron flew to Santa Fe to visit his uncle, who asked Ron if he had ever considered law school. Ron hadn’t, but on his uncle’s advice, visited the UNM School of Law and talked to Professor Hart. Hart told Ron they had a place in the class that started the following Monday. Ron called the registrar at Dickinson College, who read Ron’s undistinguished undergrad transcripts and test scores over the phone to Hart. The registrar then told Ron that any school that would accept a transcript over the phone wasn’t any good and that Ron shouldn’t go there.
But Ron did. He returned to Santa Fe, told his incredulous uncle the story, and flew back to Pennsylvania. He withdrew from Penn State, packed up the car, and drove to Albuquerque. He didn’t have a place to stay, but for the first time in too long, he had something to look forward to.
At first, Ron felt overwhelmed, but, “After five or six weeks I figured out that the most important thing was not to do any less or any more than what was asked of you,” he said. And life began to change.
“All of a sudden I had a purpose and was able to discipline myself,” he said. “I developed a love for the law. My GPA was 2.1 the first semester; I was on the Dean’s List the second semester.”
Fred Hart, who has been a law faculty member for 37 years and twice served as dean (1971-1979 and 1985-1986), characteristically has refused to take any credit for helping to put Ron on a straight path. “He seemed like a bright young man,” he said. “We had the room to admit another person without putting a strain on the school. In my opinion it wasn’t a big deal; I don’t dispute that it was for him.”
Ron insisted that Hart was instrumental in his ultimate success. “I have achieved recognition and success as a lawyer,” he said. “I may have done it another way, but the way Fred Hart let me do it gave me a chance when I needed it. It was a transformational event. I’m very grateful to him.”
Pride and Payback
After graduation, Ron eventually moved back to Pennsylvania, where he has had a long career in real estate law. He has written two books that have become reference manuals: Ladner Pennsylvania Real Estate Law (a two-volume work) and PA Landlord-Tenant Law and Practice.
He and his wife, Susan, have established the Ronald and Susan Friedman Faculty Excellence Award because “although UNM is state-supported, it still needs help recruiting and retaining faculty,” Ron said. “The law school turns out good lawyers. I’ve never thought twice about being proud of it.”
He’s also proud to be one of Hart’s students—one on whom Fred took a chance. “When I was in school,” Ron said, “Fred was a go-to guy when you had problems. He was one of the pillars.”
Naturally, Fred downplayed that praise as well. “A pillar?” he said. “If you’re dean, you’re supposed to be that.”
“Ron has achieved incredible success both as a lawyer and an author,” said Professor Hart. “We may have given him a chance, but what he did with it is a tribute to him alone.”