Dan D. Harmon ’85: A Culture of Support
Entering law school with an engineering degree, Dan Harmon was, he says with a smile, both a bit brash and not very worldly. “I grew up in a small, conservative community of farmers and orchardists in central Washington. I thought Birkenstock was Oregon’s version of Woodstock.”
As it turns out, Lewis & Clark did more than expand Harmon’s knowledge of footwear: it also introduced him to new ways of thinking and to people from diverse backgrounds. “I embraced being exposed to wildly different ideas and viewpoints in an environment of open expression,” he says. “I left Lewis & Clark with a law degree, but even more importantly I left law school a better person and a lifelong learner. For all of that I am immensely grateful.”
Thanks to his parents and community, the young Harmon drew from a wellspring of good sense and strong discipline. Those values served him well at Washington State University and Hoffman Construction Company. “I graduated in Pullman on a Saturday night,” he recalls, “and showed up for work at 7 a.m. Monday in Pocatello.”
He brought strong mathematical and technical prowess to his work as an engineer, but quickly realized that he needed to develop top-notch communication skills in order to advance. Harmon also foresaw that the construction industry would become increasingly litigious. Law school appeared a wise choice.
Attracted by Lewis & Clark’s location, reputation as a close-knit community, and evening program, he transferred to Hoffman’s Portland office and embarked on what he calls “the best period in my intellectual life. I was carried away by the rigor of it all.”
I started donating money as an obligation to do for others what had been done for me. Now it has transformed into something that gives me separate purpose and joy.”
He relished the give-and-take with professors like Jim Huffman, Steve Kanter, and Doug Newell. “Steve and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum ideologically,” Harmon says, “but we always appreciated and respected each other’s perspective.”
Harmon also thrived in the culture of support that remains a law school hallmark. “The faculty and staff take time to build relationships and to help all students reach their full potential,” he says. “Concern that goes beyond the classroom is part of what I call the individualized care and feeding of students.”
Today Harmon is still with Hoffman Construction—as executive vice president, general counsel, and one of three principal owners.
Reflecting on his journey, he says, “I often ask myself, ‘How did I get here? Who helped me?’ I did not get here by myself, and I know others won’t reach their potential without help. That’s why it’s important for all of us to give back to the things and the people who made a difference in our life.”
Jim Huffman is one of those people for him. “Jim believes everyone should be free to express their own views,” Harmon says. “He is equally passionate in believing that all of us then have the obligation to listen to the views of others.” That is a founding principle of the James L. Huffman Lecture in Honor of the Western Resources Legal Center, a signature event at Lewis & Clark established in large part through Harmon’s leadership and generosity.
A first-generation college student, Harmon put himself through WSU by piecing together scholarships, work-study employment, and summer jobs. He worked full-time at Hoffman while in law school, subsisting for four years “on a steady diet of Top Ramen and four to five hours of sleep at night.”
“My passion now is to help students struggle less and to be successful,” he says. “I started donating money as an obligation to do for others what had been done for me. Now it has transformed into something that gives me separate purpose and joy.”
[Editor’s note: In 2017, Dan Harmon received the law school’s Distinguished Graduate Award.]