Dennis O. Lynch, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, was honored with a citation in recognition of his retirement at commencement on December 17 at the Bank United Center. Flanked by University of Miami President Julio Frenk and School of Law Dean Patricia D. White, Lynch’s contributions were acknowledged by Provost Thomas LeBlanc.
“Your distinguished service as an administrator, teacher, and scholar inspired your students and your colleagues to achieve excellence,” LeBlanc said. “Thank you for your extraordinary contributions to the University and the practice of law in our nation and our hemisphere.”
As the distinguished Lynch bids the law school farewell, he plans to pick up his fly fishing rod and reel and go in search of perfect rivers, continuing a life of serendipitous adventures. Lynch graduated first with a B.A. in Economics from the University of Oregon, but not before taking a gap year to travel. He taught English in Guatemala, lived on a sugar plantation, rambled down the west coast from Peru to Chile and back up the east coast though Argentina and Uruguay before hopping a ship from Rio de Janeiro through the Strait of Gibraltar to Barcelona.
“It was the early 1960s,” Lynch said. “The war in Vietnam was escalating, and the draft was increasing. I was having a fascinating time traveling and would have continued, but in order to retain my student deferment and finish college I needed to return to Oregon.”
Lynch would finish out his senior year at Oregon but delay admission to Harvard Law School to accept and use a Fulbright Scholarship to engage in a regional economic development study in Venezuela, in association with the University of Oregon and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. With the thought of pursuing a career in economics, policy, and government, Lynch received a J.D. from Harvard Law School. As a rising 2L, he interned for then-New York Mayor John Lindsay, working on a job training program in the Bronx. For an idealistic law student bent on bringing “government closer to the people,” it provided real-world experience.
As a 3L, Lynch was one of a group of students awarded a Ford Foundation grant, applied to produce a 1,000-word report outlining strategies to improve local access to the Boston city government. The student group ran their own workshop and invited guest speakers from Boston government and academics. After completing the J.D. degree at Harvard, Lynch accepted a position with the Ford Foundation in Bogota, Colombia. He worked as an advisor on a program funded jointly by the Ford Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support Colombian legal education reforms.
He also was responsible for working on grants funding Colombian projects to improve the infrastructure for urban squatter communities. Lynch then went to Yale Law School, as a Fellow in Law and
Modernization under an AID grant, and completed an LL.M. He returned to Colombia with funding from an International Legal Center Research Grant and completed an empirical study of the Colombian legal profession examining the relationship between legal education and the profession’s role in fostering change in Colombian social and economic development. The study was the basis of his J.S.D. degree doctoral dissertation on the Colombian legal profession.
“Since I never studied Spanish, it was my earlier travel in Latin America that gave me the opportunity to experience the culture and to learn Spanish on the road,” Lynch said. “Without that experience I could not have worked effectively in Colombia and completed an empirical study of the Colombian legal profession for my Doctorate.”
While completing the J.S.D., he decided to explore a career in academia. Near the end of his studies, Soia Mentschikoff, then AALS president, would woo Lynch to Miami to teach civil procedure, employment law, and labor law.
“She invited me to meet with her at the annual conference in New Orleans,” he said. “We talked for three hours, and at the end of the conversation she said ‘give me a call when you are ready to join the Miami faculty.’”
Both of Lynch’s daughters were born in Bogota and spoke Spanish before English. He moved with his family to Miami in 1974 to begin his career as a law professor. He and his first wife divorced a few years later, but they retained joint custody of Shannon and Lisa and raised the girls together.
“When I taught in the evening division, the girls would often sit in my classes. After class they would comment on the cases I was discussing with the students and their insights were often more penetrating than the comments of my students,” Lynch said. “Maybe that is why one is a university professor and the other is a practicing lawyer.”
During his sixteen years teaching at Miami Law, he would dabble outside academia, consulting for the U.S. State Department on the administration of justice in Central America, constitutional reform in Colombia, and legal reform in Nicaragua. He also consulted on labor antitrust issues and served as a labor arbitrator in the public and private sectors, including with The Walt Disney Company.
“Dennis Lynch has served the University of Miami Law School with distinction, with a short leave of absence, since 1974,” said Professor Irwin Stotzky, who was also recruited by Dean Mentschikoff the same year. “As thousands of his students can attest, he has been a great and demanding teacher and a terrific role model. As his colleagues can attest, he has been a first-rate administrator and has helped all of us improve our scholarship through his penetrating comments on our work. We wish him well on his next journey.”
After twelve years as a single parent, Lynch met Carol. They married in the summer of 1990 and moved together with Carol’s daughter Meagan to Denver where Lynch had accepted a position as Dean of the Denver University School of Law. Lynch served as the law dean at Denver University for seven years and then decided to focus on his teaching and scholarship with the intent to remain in Denver where he could hike and fly fish as well as teach. However, Miami called in 1999 and invited him to return and serve as Miami’s dean. He and Carol decided to return to Miami where Lynch served as Dean for nine years. In 2008 he made the decision to finish his academic career spending time teaching and working with students.
Lynch grew up in Ontario, Oregon, a small town near the Idaho border. His parents were journalists who ran the local Argus Observer, established in 1897 and named after the 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology. His brother, Larry, followed into the family business, becoming a reporter and a writer.
Lynch has served on the Accreditation Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar and has been a member of the Council of the Section from 2006 until 2012. He is a member of the Association of American Law Schools Resource Corps and has served on the Law School Admission Council Board of Trustees and was secretary of the Board from 2005 until 2007.
At Miami Law, Lynch has taught courses in labor law, labor arbitration, and civil procedure. His scholarship has primarily focused on the legal profession and legal education in Latin America, labor law, and arbitration.
“Dennis is a great leader, he is a person who is always available to help others, and a great asset to the University,” said Luis Glaser, Executive Vice President and Provost at UM from 1986 until 2005. “As a Provost I benefited from his guidance and most importantly consider him a friend.”
Many at Miami Law and the greater University of Miami community consider Lynch a friend.
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of serving as Miami’s Dean was the opportunity to see how the careers of the students I taught in the seventies and eighties had developed,” Lynch said. “They held key positions in major firms, were judges, and community leaders. Of course the faculty and law school administrative staff was also very supportive, and our students have always been wonderful.”
“Now I look forward to having more time with our four grandchildren, traveling, hiking, and fly fishing, he said.