Lewis Hutchison joined Duke Law in March as the assistant dean for student affairs. He was most recently the assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia, not far from his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C.
Hutchison was a member of the United States Air Force and studied at New Mexico State University before earning his juris doctor at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, where he was a student of Duke Law Professors Ernest Young and Stuart Benjamin.
Hutchison talked to Duke Law News about the work that brought him to Duke Law and how he plans to help students find success in law school.
How did you find a career in law school administration?
While I was in law school I was a student recruiter and loved the idea of helping students make their dreams come true. Admissions was the perfect fit because my job was to give them the information that they need and help make their dreams come true. I did that for about 15 years, but a few years ago, I started wanting more. My job then was to bring them to the front door, show them in, and then go get the next group. My concern started to grow regarding what happens once they get to law school; how do they like it and what are we doing to make sure they have a good experience? Over the years, that hunger grew. So, when I saw this position it was exactly the thing I wanted!
Where did you work in law school admissions?
Mostly state institutions. I started off with the University of Florida, then Arizona State University, then Campbell Law School, my first private school. From there to the University of South Carolina. After five-and-a-half years, I came here.
What is your role going to be at Duke?
If you think of admissions as helping people get to law school, this position is helping people get through law school. Are there any roadblocks standing in your way of doing well here? If so, let’s talk about it! Let’s fix it! Let’s make sure you’re as successful as you can possibly be while you’re here!
What kinds of roadblocks, based on your experience both as a law student and working in admissions for 15 years, are most critical? What have you seen students tend to need Student Affairs’ help with?
Life happens while you’re in law school. So, the biggest roadblock I’ve seen is just life. Here’s what that means: when you’re in law school, relationships start and relationships will end. People will die and people will be born. That’s just life happening. Law school can be stressful enough by itself so when you add on those common things that happen in life it can sometimes be overwhelming. You deal with the stuff that you can, and if it gets to be too much, come on down and talk to us.
Do you have any particular things that you’d like to accomplish?
I want to be known as the guy who is helpful. Students can come to me about any number of things and I will be helpful to them. Even if I don’t know the answer, I will at least connect them to a person who can give them the answer directly. My goal is that students will come to me about whatever they need help with.
What’s your impression of Duke and the student culture here?
I am impressed almost daily. These students work hard. They are very engaged and they are bright. It is nothing short of impressive. The staff is so responsive to student needs that it is simply amazing. When a student comes to any one of them for help, staff go out of their way to make sure students get what they need. I’m amazed at how expertly and efficiently they move on the students’ behalf to make things happen.
What did you learn in the military that has helped you as a lawyer and a law school administrator?
First, I learned to take responsibility for things. Everything changed for me once I started to do that. Second, I learned not to complain about things. When you’ve got to get up at 4:15 in the morning, the last thing you’re going to hear in any of those barracks is people complaining about how early it is. People just get up and do what they have to do.
What about interests outside of work?
Since I’ve been here my hobby has been unpacking boxes! Before, I was doing a lot of home improvement projects. If there was anything to be done around the house, I would try to do it. A lot of times I was successful. Sometimes, not so much. Carpentry I still haven’t quite gotten, but some of the electrical stuff, the painting, patching holes, I can do.
What’s your best advice for students?
I would say, and this is for all of law school, start your work early. It’s always more than you think it is, so start early. Not only will you finish on time, but also your stress level will be a lot lower than if you had waited. Second thing is, little things like sleep and food, get those. A lot of the issues we see tend to be when people have neglected to take care of themselves. And then finally I would say, if things seem to be overwhelming, talk to somebody. Sometimes you get so caught up in your own situation that you can’t see your way out. Sometimes it takes somebody from the outside to show you the bigger perspective of things.
Are you going to be a Duke fan?
Oh, absolutely. Basketball more so than football, probably!