Donald Lewis, who has led Hamline University School of Law as its dean since July 2008, will resign his position at the end of the year to return to full-time law practice with Nilan Johnson Lewis PA, the firm he co-founded in 1996.
Lewis remained Of Counsel with the firm throughout his deanship. He will continue as Hamline’s law dean through end of the year: managing the arrival of a new entering class, fulfilling his teaching commitments and assisting the law school in its transition to new leadership. He will rejoin Nilan Johnson Lewis on January 1.
“My work at Hamline has been both the most fulfilling and most challenging in my career,” Lewis said. “I’ve especially enjoyed helping students use their legal education to pursue a wide variety of professional dreams. I will miss being part of the Hamline family, but I’m very excited about returning to the practice of problem-solving for clients.”
During his five-year deanship, the law school experienced its largest jump in its U.S. News & World Report ranking, and led Twin Cities law schools in employment of law graduates in jobs that required or preferred law degrees. Lewis also maintained national rankings for the law school’s institutes in dispute resolution and health law, and launched a third institute in business law. He grew non-JD masters-level and certificate programs, which won Hamline recognition by National Jurist magazine as among the top 20 “most innovative” law schools in the U.S.
“I am obviously disappointed that Don is leaving us, but I understand his passion to return to law practice,” said Hamline University President Linda Hanson. “He brought to the law school a renewed external focus on preparing our students for multiple pathways to professional success. Our new programs, our graduates’ employment success, and our improved standing are testimony to his leadership. I am grateful for Don’s work in positioning Hamline Law to thrive at a time of challenge and change in legal education.”
During his deanship in a period of economic recession, Hamline and other law schools faced significant drops in enrollment and revenue. However, Lewis “right-sized” the student body while maintaining academic quality. He also significantly grew alumni participation in annual giving.
“We are thrilled to welcome Don back to the firm, and expect he will resume a positive leadership role along with his unparalleled commitment to building partnerships with our clients,” said Nilan Johnson Lewis President, Matt Damon.
Lewis’ law career spans 35 years. He was born in Saint Paul and raised in its Rondo neighborhood. After receiving degrees from Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, he began his legal career with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., handling desegregation cases involving white and black state colleges in the South. He returned to Minnesota in 1982 as an appointed assistant to then-U.S. Attorney James Rosenbaum, prosecuting white-collar crimes. From there, he joined Popham Haik Schnobrich and Kaufman in 1988 and then eventually helped start the firm now known as Nilan Johnson Lewis, focusing his practice on employment litigation, health care law and white-collar criminal defense. Much of his work has involved federal-level and/or high profile cases, including the 1999 academic fraud investigation of the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team. Most recently, he was selected by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman to lead an internal investigation into the May 22 Lilydale Regional Park landslide.
A Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Law Institute, and the American Bar Foundation, Lewis co-founded the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and has served on the Board of Governors of the National Bar Association. Additionally, he serves as the vice chair of HealthPartners’ Board of Directors and was involved in the hospital system’s recent merger with Park Nicollet Health Services.
About Hamline University
Small classes, top-ranked professors, and a spirit of collaboration distinguish the Hamline University School of Law, where students are challenged to become competent, professional, and ethical lawyers with a global perspective. Hamline University is the top-ranked university in Minnesota in its class according to U.S. News & World Report, and the only Minnesota school in its class to be considered a “best value.” Founded in 1854, Hamline is also Minnesota’s first university, and among the first co-educational institutions in the nation. Hamline University attracts a diverse group of 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students who develop their passions working alongside professors invested in their success.
About Nilan Johnson Lewis PA
Founded in 1996, Nilan Johnson Lewis has built its reputation by putting clients first, building a practice centered on excellence and value, defining the next generation of law firm. The firm’s practice focuses on five areas: labor and employment, health care, product liability/mass tort litigation, commercial litigation and business law.