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Top lawyer Biklen tells students about emerging laws

Barry McNamara
04/16/2014
David Biklen '65 (right) is pictured with developement and college relations staff Steve Bloomer and Marnie Dugan and with Kiersten Cronin' 14 of Troy, who is considering law school after graduation.
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Along with resolutions, each new year brings with it a spate of new laws that go into effect Jan. 1. From traffic regulations to criminal justice standards, the changing legislation is necessary to keep pace with an ever-changing world.
 
David Biklen, a 1965 Monmouth College graduate who is now an attorney in West Hartford, Conn., plays an active role in the development of new legislation through his work with the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) and the Connecticut Law Revision Commission (CLRC). While visiting his alma mater last week through its Distinguished Alumni Visitor program, Biklen discussed his legal specialty, while also encouraging students to consider law as a career.
 
A 1968 graduate of the prestigious University of Virginia School of Law, Biklen was appointed by Connecticut’s governor to the ULC, a national law reform organization, which provides all the states “with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.”
 
“One of the issues we’re involved with is digital signatures and making them just as valid as a written signature,” said Biklen, who chairs Connecticut’s delegation to the committee. “This is a very important issue for notary publics and banks and title companies. I chaired the drafting committee for the ULC laws, and that’s what every state has chosen to adopt, rather than the federal version.”
 
Similarly, Biklen is working on laws related to assets that are held digitally, such as research or music files that an individual might have stored with a company like Facebook or Yahoo.
 
“What happens if you die?” asked Biklen. “How does the executor of your estate get a hold of that? Can Facebook or Yahoo just get rid of it? Nobody had really thought about that. We’re saying ‘No,’ they can’t do that. It’s all an emerging area in the law.”
 
In one of the classes Biklen visited, he asked students to role play the various groups and organizations that would have an opinion on the issues associated with surrogate parenting, such as gender of the parents and how much the surrogate should be paid.
        
“The students were really engaged with it,” said Biklen, who noted they attempted to take on roles similar to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Catholic Church, among others. “They had no idea how complicated an issue it would be.”
 
His extensive experience in state and national law reform for emerging legal topics includes 22 years as executive director of the CLRC, a law reform advisory body to the Connecticut legislature. In that capacity, Biklen conducted and supervised numerous revision projects of complex legal issues facing the state, including a study of Connecticut’s drug policies. The first comprehensive review by a state government of its drug policies, it resulted in a number of recommendations to improve Connecticut’s response to the use of illegal drugs. For that work, he was awarded the Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law by the Drug Policy Foundation.
 
“Among the issues we were asked to look at was the cost of the war on drugs and the number of people that were going to jail,” said Biklen, who also served as a staff attorney for the Connecticut Supreme Court for 10 years. “We spent two years on it and came up with 20 proposals, 10 of which were adopted.”
 
The proposals included reducing the penalties for marijuana use and the implementation of treatment plans.
 
“Relapsing, or failing, is a stigma related to drug treatment,” he explained. “We made a real effort to get officials to understand that chronic drug use is a disease, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. Treatment does help and is a worthwhile option, just like you would treat diabetes or high blood pressure but not expect to cure the individual of those diseases.”
 
Biklen is more than comfortable talking about science, as he was a chemistry major at Monmouth. His pre-college roots were a little west of Monmouth in the Iowa towns of Burlington and Fort Madison, but he moved away when he was 10, attending high school in Virginia. As he was choosing a college in 1961, segregation there was still an issue, so he decided to attend school in the Midwest. Monmouth won out because of its strong reputation in chemistry and not, said Biklen, because an “ancient relative,” A.Y. Graham, donated land to the college, a fact he learned later.
 
“I chose chemistry because I knew it was the toughest program at Monmouth, and I wanted to have a good major in case I didn’t go to law school,” he said.
 
Biklen told students considering law school that, as an undergraduate, “You can take whatever major you want. It’s irrelevant.” But whether students are headed down a pre-law path or not, he encouraged them to “take as many writing courses as you can. Even if you wind up in a career in the sciences, you are going to be writing grant proposals, and you are going to need to write clearly and persuasively.”
 
In addition to his chemistry major, Biklen minored in mathematics and physics. He was also involved in several extracurricular activities, serving as president of the student government and joining the swim team, the freshman basketball team, the concert choir and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. His choir experience led to studying voice for 10 years and performing professionally with choirs in the Hartford area.
 
Among his fond memories of campus was the “home field advantage” that Monmouth’s divers had thanks to the low ceiling in the swimming pool beneath the old gym. He also recalled the need to “turn on electric blankets” well in advance of sleeping to stay warm in bed during winters in the Sig Ep house.
 
Biklen has stayed connected to his Sig Ep brothers, of which about a dozen, along with their spouses, get together at various locales. Biklen has hosted the gathering in Connecticut, and other destinations have included San Francisco and Tucson.