Donald Lewis is stepping down as the dean of the Hamline University School of Law to return to private practice full time at the firm he helped to found in 1996.
Lewis has been dean of the school since July 2008 and remained of Counsel at Nilan Johnson Lewis.
The school says he will continue through the end of the year to manage the arrival of a new class, fulfill his teaching responsibilities and help the school transition to new leadership. His first day back at Nilan Johnson Lewis will be Jan. 1.
“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.
During Lewis’ five years at the helm, the law school experienced its largest jump in its U.S. News & World Report ranking. 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.
In 2013 Hamline was tied at 126 in the U.S. News rankings. In 2012 the school was not ranked in the top tier schools.
“My work at Hamline has been both the most fulfilling and most challenging in my career,” Lewis said in a statement. “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.”
The school said Lewis served during a time of significant drops in enrollment and revenue for all law schools. Officials credit him with “right sizing” the student body while maintaining academic quality. He also significantly grew alumni participation in annual giving.
“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.”
Lewis was born in St. Paul and graduated from the Harvard Law School. He began his legal career with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He returned to Minnesota in 1982 as an appointed assistant to then-U.S. Attorney James Rosenbaum, prosecuting white-collar crimes. He then 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.