His laundry was done and his on-campus apartment was clean. It was a Saturday night and Timothy Lynch, general counsel and vice president for the University, didn’t want to spend it alone in his new home.
He glanced at the University events calendar and decided to attend a mezzo-soprano student performance at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
“Wow!” he recalled thinking. “This is amazing. This is a really great place.”
Lynch, who assumed his new role on Jan. 7, said he finds the intellectual environment of his new workplace “thrilling.”
Prior to his appointment, Lynch was the deputy general counsel for litigation and enforcement at the U.S. Department of Energy, and said, as clients, the two institutions have more similarities than differences.
“There’s a real confidence in the missions,” Lynch said. “The University of Michigan has a really impressive research mission. The Department of Energy is a huge funding vehicle for labs and for universities across the country.”
Originally from Binghamton, N.Y., Lynch remembers his parents’ friends’ anecdotes of cross examining in trials as being a catalyst in his interest in the law — he saw it as both academically perplexing and a fantastic way to institute social change. He completed his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Rochester in 1990 and his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1995.
Lynch’s career is centered on the public sphere. After clerking in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1995, he worked at litigation boutique Shea & Gardner. Lynch then was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington D.C. before becoming an assistant chief litigation counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions until 2010, when he joined the Department of Energy.
In his work at the department, Lynch said working on issues like renewable energy and nuclear nonproliferation issues was an honor.
“The energy department … was an extraordinarily exciting place to be, and it was really wonderful being part of that mission and going to work every day in order to bring to fruition the ideas that (Secretary of Energy Steven Chu) had.”
He said the University allows him to do the exciting work he did at the Department of Energy with “the added benefit of being an amazing institution that is educating some of the very best students in the world.”
“I was looking for opportunities for a place that had a very public-spirited science and research mission, and I saw that the University of Michigan would be a wonderful opportunity to do the work that I love for a client that has a very similar values and goals,” Lynch said.
Only residing in Ann Arbor for a month, he’s already adopted the city’s cerebral character over the fast-paced nature of the capital.
“In Washington D.C., everyone focuses on the politics, everyone knows who’s going to appear on the Sunday talk shows and that is something that people find interesting to talk about,” Lynch said. “I didn’t. Here, people care about politics, people are very politically involved, but there’s also such a wonderful cultural and intellectual environment that I’ve really come to love in the short time I’ve been here.”
He looks forward to his wife, Lisa, and their three children joining him in Ann Arbor this July.
In D.C., Lynch was a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law from 2007 to 2012 and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center from 2008 to 2012. He said he found his experiences in the classroom enriching.
“Every year I would learn something new from the students,” Lynch said. “I would have these wonderful epiphanies in class.”
He added that it would be an honor to teach at the University Law School once he has adjusted to his new occupation.
Leonard Niehoff, University Law School adjunct professor, said the University’s Office of the Vice President and General Counsel has great significance in influencing higher education law.
“Throughout its long history, the University has worked to protect the independence that the Michigan Constitution wisely affords it,” Niehoff said, calling the school’s leadership role “second to none.”
Niehoff, who has been in private practice in Michigan for nearly three decades and worked with nine general counsels, said the breadth of issues the office must review is common only to large, public research institutions.
“The University of Michigan is a city,” Niehoff said “It has roads, a security force, buildings, parks and recreational facilities … just about every kind of regulated enterprise or industry exists on the campus.”
The University’s legal offices have always contended with national issues. He foresees the University will experience cases related to health care regulation and donor agreements as higher education becomes more expensive.
“To some degree, it’s very hard to predict,” Niehoff said. “It ends up being a mirror of what else society is dealing. The University has to be a leader, and it has consistently played that role.”
Barely a month into his role, Lynch anticipates serving the University to the greatest of his abilities.
“This is just one of those clients for a lawyer where you can just come to work every day really fully believing in the mission of the client and wanting at your core to help the client succeed.”