Robert Little Irwin, 78, a retired federal government lawyer and hearing examiner, died Saturday at the Jenkins Memorial Nursing Home in Baltimore after a long illness.

He had retired from the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1968.

Born in Montgomery, Ala., Mr. Irwin attended the University and served in the Army in World War I.

He came here in 1921 and earned a law degree from Columbus University, now part of Catholic University, where he later received a master's degree in international law.

He joined the ICC as an engineering aide and in the 1930s became one of the early hearing examiners in the Federal Communications Commission. He helped to write some of the first orders and regulations of the FCC.

Mr. Irwin left government service in 1940 to work with the law firm Dow. L* ohnes and Albertson, working on the licensing of radio and television stations around the country.

He rejoined the federal government in 1960 as a hearing examiner with the SUbversive Activities Control Board and then returned to the ICC.

A member of the D.C. bar, Mr. Irwin was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. He belonged to the Radio and Television Attorneys Association and the Sergeant Jaspar American Legion Post.

He is survived by his wife, Gertrude Collier Irwin, and a son, W. Burke Irwin, of the home in Westhaven, Md.; another son, Dr. Robert Collier Irwin, of Catonsville, Md.; a brother, Arthur, and four sisters, Mary Inez Tingles, May Irwin Smith, Bertha Anderson and Catherine Bledsoe, all of Montgomery, and four grandchildren.