Charles "Chuck" H. Johnson, JD ’75, wasn’t just a member of Hamline Law’s first graduating class, he helped found the school. And as founders, Johnson and his classmates didn’t just come up with an idea, they assembled a law library, secured a series of buildings in which to learn, hauled all the furniture and books from building to building, and then sold the whole idea to Hamline University. Johnson did all this while working a day job -- attending law school at night, learning the law, and graduating on time.
Johnson, of the Law Firm of Charles H. Johnson P.A. and a member of the Board of Trustees of Hamline University, has been selected by the Hamline Law Alumni Board to receive the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award. The annual award is given to an individual who exemplifies Hamline Law’s commitment to ethical leadership and service.
As a new lawyer in 1975, Johnson established a niche for his young firm (which he started with two of his Hamline classmates) after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Bates v. Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977) allowed lawyers to advertise their services. Johnson's firm became the very first firm in the country to advertise for clients who had been harmed by a specific product, the Dalkon Shield.
Since then, Johnson has developed a national practice, practicing exclusively in the areas of mass tort, commercial and consumer class actions, antitrust, product liability and commercial litigation. He has extensive practice experience in federal multi-district litigation. Johnson has successfully represented thousands of individual clients in cases involving pharmaceutical products and medical devices, and has received continuous recognition for his work.
Johnson has continued to provide leadership in the development of the School of Law and its reputation. Most recently, Johnson helped launch Hamline Law's Business Law Institute (BLI), and he is active on the BLI advisory board.
“A huge number of law grads don’t go into the practice of law, but instead go into business,” Johnson said. “BLI provides Hamline Law grads with the ability to hit the ground running in business or in law.”
Johnson is impressed with the quality of the program and the first crop of 2012 graduates it produced.
Johnson is also a big fan of Hamline Law’s weekend program. As a Hamline University Trustee, he was able to meet with representatives of the American Bar Association who observed the program some years back.
“The ABA was impressed with the high level of motivation and preparation demonstrated by weekend students,” Johnson said. He also credited the Hamline Law faculty for embracing the concept and being willing to teach on Saturdays and Sundays.
Johnson has served on Hamline University’s Board of Trustees for seven years, and he has enjoyed helping to move the university forward.
“It has been great working with President Linda Hanson, who is a visionary,” Johnson said, noting that the development of the Anderson Center was a critical contribution to the life of the university. “It’s also important to the larger community,” Johnson said, referring to a Pioneer Press editorial about the value of being a “college town” for Saint Paul.
Johnson acknowledged that Hamline Law is faced with a very competitive environment for law students, based on the challenging job market for lawyers.
Nevertheless, Johnson said, “Law has been a great career for me. I love the practice of law.” He urges law grads to find a niche, like he did, where they can be successful -- whether it practicing law or working in business, the nonprofit sector, politics or education.
The Hamline Law Alumni Board will present Johnson with the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual Midwinter Reception hosted for Hamline Law by the firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi on Jan. 17.
Johnson has three children and four grandchildren. His oldest son Jim, has followed in his footsteps, graduating from Hamline Law in 2011.