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Monday, March 31, 2008

Hamline's new law dean a good fit for the school's innovative culture

Hamline University School of Law today named its new dean -- respected Twin Cities lawyer Donald Lewis. Lewis is a partner at what, pound for pound, is one of the most business savvy firms in town -- Halleland Lewis Nilan and Johnson. The Halleland firm, known for its focus on providing solutions to business clients, has been an innovator in its marketing campaigns (including posting billboards in airports and elsewhere), ability to differentiate itself and collaborative management style. The firm has shown a willingness to eschew the conventional wisdom of the buttoned-down legal world, thereby giving it an advantage over some of its more traditional (and less creative) competitors.

It will be interesting to watch Lewis import some of these types of techniques to Hamline -- a school that has already itself shown no shyness about being innovative. Hamline has, for example, smartly carved out niches in ADR and internatonal law that have garnered it both national and international recognition. In fact, the school has already run counter to the prevailing trend by tapping a lawyer directly from practice to be its dean rather than opting for a full-time academic. I cannot recall the last time that happened at a Twin Cities law school (and feel free to blog in an answer if you have one). It's certainly been quite a while.

Is the school's decision to hire a lawyer direct from practice to be its dean an indication that it plans to deepen its commitment to nuts-and-bolts practice training, perhaps moving a little further away from the purely theoretical courses that have historically been the underpinning of a legal education? Or is it just a way of saying, "Hey, we're willing to think outside the box?" Stay tuned.

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