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A Golden Life

Attorney, Veteran and Trojan, Hiram W. Kwan looks back

July 06, 2020
Alumnus Hiram Kwan as a young man during WWII

Hiram W. Kwan (B.S. ’50, JD ’53) is an American success story.

The 96-year-old Trojan was honored recently when he received his Juris Doctorate from the USC Gould School of Law. When he originally earned his law degree in 1953, it was then known as a “Bachelor of Laws” degree. Officials at Gould wanted to make sure he had his official Juris Doctorate degree for his records.

A Full Life

Kwan was born in Cuba in 1924, when his father, Andrew Kwan, a bilingual banker from San Francisco, was tasked with opening up a bank branch there. The family returned to the states not long afterwards, and relocated to Los Angeles in 1928.

Los Angeles at that time was segregated, both by law and practice. Chinese had to live in Chinatown, and attended schools, churches and social groups made up of their own.

“I am extremely proud to be part of the Trojan family. USC has a long history and has done a lot of good for the community and leadership, to which I have dedicated my life.”—Hiram W. Kwan (B.S. ’50, JD ’53)

The family didn’t have a lot of money, but they worked hard and made due. The five sons and two daughters did whatever jobs they could find. Kwan worked on an asparagus farm one summer. He and his brothers would clean the local Chinese Congregational church located on 9th Street in Los Angeles without compensation.

Kwan recalled that he and his friends planned to become engineers and return to China so they could have successful careers, such was the prejudice against them in the United States. But when World II broke out, they pledged their allegiance to the U.S., and enlisted. All five brothers served in the U.S. Army during the World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars for a period up until 1973.

Kwan served in the U.S. Army as a member of a B-24 Liberator combat crew in the pacific in 1942. During his time in the Air Corps, he rose through the ranks, attaining the rank of 1st Lt. He remained in active service until 1946, and maintained a reserve status for 25 years thereafter.

After the war, like so many returning soldiers, he utilized the GI bill to further his education. He chose to study at USC, first earning a degree in business in 1950, followed by a law degree in 1953.

Kwan is the second son of four other brothers.  His eldest brother Wellington, is 97, a retired immigration attorney. His younger brother, David Kwan, was a criminal attorney, and passed away a few years ago. James Kwan is a retired entrepreneur, and Leo Kwan, the youngest, has a law degree from UCLA and practiced as an anesthesiologist until he recently retired

Public Service

Mr. Kwan would go on to become a distinguished immigration attorney. His long career was marked by many achievements for the public good. As a young civil servant in the U.S. Attorney’s Office—the first Chinese American to do so—Kwan brought a case against Bank of America, accusing it of making false FHA loans through its subsidiaries. He was only two years out of law school, and went against the bank’s attorneys from powerhouse firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. In 1957 he sued the bank for punitive damages and helped the government get a $50 million settlement under the False Claim Act. He was appointed special assistant to complete this case.

He would go on to start his own office in Chinatown, eventually forming what was then the largest Chinese American law firm in Los Angeles: Kwan, Quan, Cohen and Lum. His associates and he helped innumerable immigrants, and cornered the market with their fair practices and ability to speak to Chinese immigrants in their own languages.

Eventually, he hung out his own shingle: Hiram W. Kwan: A Professional Law Corporation, which still exists today.

Apart from his legal work, Kwan taught extensively, lecturing at the USC business school and the school of law, and serving as an adjunct professor at the schools of law of Pepperdine and Southwestern universities. He is a lifetime member of the USC Legion Lex, USC General Alumni Association, and the American Legion Post 628 of Los Angeles.

The advancement of Chinese American rights, he has said, is among his top priorities. For his efforts, he has been widely recognized by such groups as the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, which awarded him the 2014 Golden Spike Award.

In December, 2018, President Trump signed into law a bill for the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act, recognizing the hardships and heroism of Chinese American troops during World War II. Hiram Kwan was a recipient of this Congressional Award for his service to the country during World War II as a Chinese-American serviceman.

“I am extremely proud to be part of the Trojan family,” Kwan said. “USC has a long history and has done a lot of good for the community and leadership, for which I have dedicated my life to.”

Alumnus Hiram Kwan
USC Alumnus Hiram Kwan displays his updated Juris Doctorate degree.