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A professional photo for Roman Hernandez wearing a suit with a blue background

Alumni Awards: Raising the bar for diversity in the legal profession

By Hannah Ashton

Only 1.7% of attorneys in Oregon identified as Hispanic or Latino/a in 2020.

College of Science alumni Román Hernández (‘92) is not only part of that 1.7%, but he has dedicated his time to making sure that number grows.

“When I joined a large corporate law firm right out of law school, I found the experience very isolating. There were few racial or ethnic minorities at that firm,” Hernández said. “In fact, when I joined the firm, I was only the second Hispanic attorney at the firm. The first was my law school classmate and friend who graduated one year ahead of me.”

As a second-year lawyer Hernández created the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association with two friends, an organization dedicated to advancing the interests and rights of Hispanic legal professionals. With more than 200 members and growing, the association celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Hernández is now a nationally recognized attorney specializing in employment law and commercial litigation. He works as the office managing partner for Troutman Pepper’s Portland office, a national firm ranked among the 50 largest law firms in the United States.

“I fall back on that methodical way of thinking and critical reasoning skills. Those are applicable in what I do day-to-day."

On Oct. 21, Hernández will receive the College of Science’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for his exceptional achievements that have brought honor, distinction and visibility to the College and Oregon State University. “I was very surprised because I don’t practice science. I’m not in the field anymore. But I am deeply honored,” he said.

Although at first glance the law and science are quite different, Hernández said they require many of the same skills. “I fall back on that methodical way of thinking and critical reasoning skills. Those are applicable in what I do day-to-day,” he said. “I think it prepared me well.”

The son of migrant farm workers from Mexico, Hernández was the youngest of eight children. Raised in rural eastern Oregon, coming to Oregon State was a culture shock — the university was four times the size of his hometown. He relished the opportunity to meet other students from different cultural backgrounds and attend events on campus.

Hernández started his academic career at Treasure Valley Community College through the support of financial aid. An Air Force ROTC scholarship allowed him to transfer to Oregon State and major in general science, emphasizing biological sciences, and aerospace studies.

After graduation, he served for nearly five years in the Air Force, where he met a Hispanic judge advocate lawyer who encouraged him to attend law school. Hernández graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School (Portland) in 2000.

His record of service has grown exponentially since then. Hernández served as the National President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and co-founded the association's Legal Education Fund. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber, The Oregon Community Foundation and on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Portland Branch Board. In 2021, Governor Kate Brown appointed Hernández to serve for four years on the Board of Trustees of Oregon State University.

In honor of his commitment to diversity and inclusion, Hernández has received many awards and accolades from governments, institutions and organizations. He was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Award and Distinguished Business Law Graduate Award from Lewis & Clark Law School; the Ohtli Award from the Government of Mexico (the highest award presented to a non-Mexican citizen); the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alumni Legacy Award from Oregon State University; the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Award from the Oregon State Bar; and numerous other honors.

Read more about Hernández and his inspiring efforts to help the next generation of Hispanic and Latinx legal professionals.