For Steve Dunham, being a lawyer for colleges and
universities hasn't been so much a job as a calling.
"My view is that higher education law practice is pure
public interest law," said Dunham, appointed last week as
vice president and general counsel of Johns Hopkins.
"It covers some of the most important areas that we
face as a society, obviously education, but also health,
science and technology, globalization, and humanistic and
democratic values," he said. "For a lawyer to work full
time in the public interest for an institution as
pre-eminent as Johns Hopkins is a fantastic
Dunham, a Denver-based partner in and former chairman
of the global law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP and former
chief attorney at the University of Minnesota, will join
the university Dec. 1. He must first complete teaching
obligations at the University of Denver and transition his
clients to other attorneys.
Dunham, who has taught law students throughout most of
his 36-year legal career, has represented colleges and
universities across a wide spectrum of legal issues, both
as in-house lawyer and outside counsel. His experience
includes matters as diverse as research issues,
intellectual property, employment disputes, First Amendment
issues, academic freedom, accreditation, ethics, and
appointments and promotions.
"Steve's passion for higher education and love of the
practice of law, combined with a keen intelligence and
consummate skill, have made his reputation as one of the
foremost higher education attorneys in the United States,"
said William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins. Brody
appointed Dunham with the approval of the executive
committee of the university's board of trustees.
Dunham, the son of a University of Chicago law
professor, left private practice in 1979 to join the law
faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School, became
general counsel of the university in 1982 and was vice
president and general counsel from 1985 to 1988. He then
joined the Denver office of Morrison & Foerster, the
business and litigation firm in whose San Francisco office
he had previously practiced. He served the firm —
which now has more than 1,000 attorneys in 19 cities on
three continents — as a managing partner from 1990 to
1992. He was chairman from 1996 to 2000.
Dunham said he has enjoyed representing universities
both as an in-house lawyer and as outside counsel.
"The advantage of being in-house is that you are
closer--both geographically and also in understanding--to
the client," he said. "You know the client better,
understand the needs better. It lets you be more proactive;
you can work on preventive lawyering and compliance."
Dunham said his aim is to "build on the very strong
office that's in place," the product of a predecessor who
spent 28 years as the university's general counsel before
retiring in 2003.
"For many years, Estelle Fishbein was one of the
pre-eminent lawyers in the field," he said. "To follow her
and build on the office that she created, basically, is an
honor and another attraction of the job."
Dunham also noted that Derek Savage, who has served as
acting vice president and general counsel, has maintained
the high quality of the office and he looks forward to
working with him and the other attorneys.
Dunham, who was raised in Chicago, graduated from
Princeton University in 1966 and from Yale Law School in
1969. He served as clerk to a federal district judge and
taught at the University of California, Davis, and in
Taiwan before joining Morrison & Foerster for the first
time in 1972.
He is a member of the bar in California, Minnesota and
Colorado. He has been a member of the board and a fellow of
the National Association of College and University
Attorneys, a director of the American Judicature Society,
chair of the executive committee of the Colorado Lawyers'
Committee, a member of the American Law Institute and a
trustee of Mills College.