Alan Dickinson '01

January 16, 2009Duke Law News

Jan. 16, 2009 — Since graduating from law school, Alan Dickinson has crafted an impressive legal resume: He clerked for Judge Susan Harrell-Black on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; practiced litigation with Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson in Charlotte and Comerford & Britt in Winston-Salem; and served as in-house counsel to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Dickinson says he thoroughly enjoyed each position, but admits to having harbored one specific career goal since his student days — to return to Duke Law School if the right opportunity arose.

Having joined the staff of the Career Center on Jan. 5, Dickinson achieved his goal. And in his capacity as director of JD advising and professional development he has the opportunity to offer current students the same sort of compassion and support he received as a student at the Law School. “It’s both a joy and a privilege to be part of the community again,” he says.

“The environment of collaboration, collegiality and challenge, and the open-door policy that I found here as a student made it a perfect place for me to learn and grow as a leader in the law,” says Dickinson, recalling the support he received from professors like Doriane Coleman. “It was evident from the first day of her torts class that she wanted to be with us every day. I felt as if she took a personal interest in me and in my success.” A self-described extrovert who is at his best when interacting with people, Dickinson says he looks forward to offering similar support to current students.

He particularly wants to help them connect with their passions, through one-on-one discussions and career programming. “With passion comes drive, and with drive comes success,” he notes. He views his own career as a journey, he adds, and relishes the opportunity to launch Duke Law students on theirs.

In advising students, Dickinson will be informed by his own professional experience. As Judge Black’s clerk, he learned “that there is a sincere art to tactful negotiation and compromise” which he observed in her interactions with her fellow judges. Through his clerkship and litigation practice, he noted the crucial importance of clear, persuasive writing, always being prepared, and “presenting your best self to those around you.”

Dickinson’s interactions with students and families when serving as school counsel helped him develop skills in effective communication beyond those he gained as a litigator, he says. These interactions frequently took place under trying circumstances, as parents and guardians appealed school administrators’ decisions regarding student suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary matters.

“It was continually an exercise in thoughtful, caring communication with families and persons who were very much in need of guidance,” he recalls. “And as much as I thought I had developed that in my prior years of practice, there could be no substitute for the kinds of conversations that I had over the last couple of years. It’s challenging and heart-wrenching for people on all sides of the situation, because you realize that a child’s education is at stake. That’s one of the most precious things we have.”

"Alan brings an amazing array of experience and commitment to supporting the goals and aspirations of others,” comments Bruce Elvin, associate dean and director of the Career and Professional Development Center. “I have already seen him providing wise counsel and support to students and alumni with vastly divergent goals and aspirations; the fact that Alan is a graduate of Duke only enhances his ability to connect with both students and other graduates."

A native of Scarsdale, N.Y., growing up Dickinson inherited his father’s love for Duke, and he says it was largely that allegiance which made Duke his first choice for law school after completing his undergraduate degree at Wake Forest. “It had always been a dream of mine to be part of this institution, so when I was accepted there was no question that I would stay in North Carolina for another three years,” he says. Now married to Lyn a high school teacher, and father to 8-month-old Ella, Dickinson has settled in the state for the long term.

With his full-circle return to Duke Law, Dickinson considers himself truly home. “I could never have foreseen my professional pathway after law school in a million years,” he says. “I firmly believe that this institution opened doors for me. But I often looked at my pathway and wondered where I was going. Now everything makes sense. I’m passionate about helping students discover who they are and where they want to go, and equally determined to help them get to a place where they are truly excited about going to work each day.”
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