Lawyer Hutton represents big names in pro sports

Minnesota alumnus Lee Hutton is now a premier sports and entertainment attorney in the Minneapolis area.

by Samuel Gordon

It’s hard to walk down a magazine aisle and avoid news of New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian and their pending divorce.

Less well-known is that the lawyer Humphries hired in November for the proceedings is University of Minnesota alumnus Lee Hutton.

Fifteen years ago, Hutton represented the Gophers on the gridiron and the track. Now Hutton, 36, represents professional athletes such as Humphries as one of the biggest sports and entertainment attorneys in the Midwest.

Heavy on the academics

While Hutton never stood out in collegiate athletics, it was once he got to college that he took off academically.

On the field, Hutton had to adjust to the revolving door of coaches that has plagued Minnesota throughout the years.

In 1996, the Gophers’ then-head coach Jim Wacker was terminated mid-season, and Glen Mason was named head football coach prior to the 1997 campaign.

Mason said he noticed early in his tenure that Hutton was a little more focused than the rest of his peers.

“I think he exemplified the word ‘student-athlete’ because he was always very serious about his academics,” Mason said.

“It’s not that academics weren’t important to a lot of players, but [Hutton] was probably going the extra mile from an academic standpoint and having defining goals out there academically, it probably set him apart.”

Throughout college, Hutton prepped for his future by observing and learning business practices from Dr. McKinley Boston, who worked at the University as athletics director from 1991 to 1995 and as vice president for student development and athletics from 1995 to 2000.

Now athletics director at New Mexico State University, Boston said Hutton had complete focus early on in his career.

“He understood why he was in college, and he understood the commitment to both [sports and school],” Boston said.

“I remember saying to a lot of [athletes] that winning and commitment to academics are not mutually exclusive to each other. You need to do both, and there was no doubt that Lee internalized what that was about early.”

Law school by accident

Hutton majored in advertising, and as he was nearing graduation, a friend of his convinced him to take a test that forever changed his life.

“When I graduated journalism school, one of my friends was taking the [Law School Admission Test]. I took the LSAT with him with no intention of going to law school,” Hutton said. “I scored a decent score and thought law school may be for me.”

It was, but he wanted to try out for the NFL first. Hutton hired an agent and worked out for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.

He didn’t make either team’s roster. So he decided to move on academically.

After graduating from Minnesota, he attended William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, and for the first time in his life, he had the chance to be a full-time student.

“One of the things you learn as an athlete is really understanding how to time manage,” he said. “Football prepared me for my career as an attorney. That was the surprising part in the rigorous nature of a [first-year] law student.”

Hutton called himself “a guy who kind of prided looking at the bigger picture. I started establishing my clientele when I was a first-year law student. Going to businesses, getting to know the owners and even making statements that ‘Once I’m out of law school, you’re going to be my client one day.’”

His networking paid off early in his law career, and he received a job offer in just his second year of law school. Upon finishing, he accepted a job with Johnson & Condon, P.A., in Edina, Minn., as an associate attorney in the Liability and Litigation Group.

Accomplished attorney

At first, Hutton had no interest in working with athletes in law because he wanted to prove his skills in other arenas, he said.

But that didn’t last long. In October 2007, Hutton joined Minneapolis-based law firm of Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A., one of the top sports and entertainment firms in the Midwest.

“[Hutton] makes people of all walks comfortable, and he has mystical charismatic powers,” Ken Abdo, a vice president of the firm, wrote in an email.

Abdo said Hutton brings a lot of diversity to the firm when it comes to skills, culture and style.

Hutton is now a partner at the firm and works as a corporate attorney doing corporate litigation, products liability, premises liability, advertising law and sports and entertainment law.

He handles a variety of cases across the nation that range from contract disputes to traffic accident cases. He represents a number of high-profile athletes including Humphries, Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson and former NFL wide receiver Hank Baskett.

Hutton said he serves as a “clean-up master” for players and coaches and prides himself on the fact that none of his clients has filed for bankruptcy. That may sound odd, but he’s operating in an era when 78 percent of NFL players file for bankruptcy or joblessness just two years after retiring, according to Sports Illustrated.

“I almost act as a general counsel for my coaches and athletes now. I’m their lead blocker, so to speak,” he said. “My job is to advocate the desires and needs of my client.”

He’s done a pretty good job of that. Since 2008, Hutton has been named a “Rising Star” every year by Minnesota Super Lawyers, and Minnesota Lawyer named him an Attorney of the Year in 2010.

Baskett, who has been out of the NFL since 2010, said Hutton has been instrumental in helping him transition into life after football.

“It’s more than just a client relationship. He’s actually become a friend, and he’s helping me take that step into going into the business world. He’s been helping me, and it’s been working out very well,” Baskett said.

Hutton is assisting Baskett in his numerous ventures, which include corporate speaking, company representation and opening gymnasiums.

Hutton also appeared on the season premiere of “Kendra,” a reality show about Baskett and his wife, Kendra Wilkinson.

“We put our real life on the show, and he’s become part of our real life, and that’s just how he stumbled on. I think he kind of got thrown into it,” Baskett said.

“He didn’t really even know what was happening, and we just said, ‘Hey, hop aboard.’”

It’s not the first time Hutton has had to be camera-ready at all times. He said paparazzi have ambushed him with regularity during Humphries’ divorce process.

But that’s just one of the challenges Hutton faces.

“There’s no longer 9-to-5 days. The stressful part is I’m constantly having communication with my clients, all hours of the night,” he said.

He said he recently picked up two clients in the wake of the crash involving Italian cruise liner, Costa Concordia. The time difference has led to a few sleep-deprived nights.

“My tagline is ‘I’m available 24 hours a day,’ and that rings true, especially when you have a national practice.”

Early days

Hutton grew up in Galveston, Texas. As a dual-sport athlete, he fostered his talent and passion for football and track and field at football powerhouse La Marque High School. There, he began garnering attention from major Division I programs during his sophomore year.

A self-described “track guy converted into football,” Hutton was first recruited to run track.

“Back in ’94, recruiting wasn’t even as organized or as hectic as it is now,” he remembered. “I was one of the fastest hurdlers in the nation.

“They are always looking for speed on the gridiron.”

Hutton was offered track scholarships by the University of California-Los Angeles, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, the University of Wisconsin and others. Football offers from Minnesota, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas and the University of Houston soon followed, but he said he wouldn’t attend a school that didn’t allow him to play both sports.

Then-head Gophers coach Wacker did, and that, coupled with a “connection to a metropolis,” is why Hutton opted for Minnesota.

He enrolled in the fall of 1994 and said he was very studious from the onset.

Hutton took classes in the Carlson School of Management and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, all while dedicating much of his time to his athletics.

“I think the adjustment is trying to overcome the stereotypes of a dumb jock,” Hutton said. “You almost have to speak up just to change the misguided belief. That was a very difficult adjustment.”

On the football field, Hutton’s career highlight came during the 1995 season in a game with No. 4 Ohio State University.

He scored his first touchdown on a “fly pattern right over [his defender] — 54-yard touchdown in the Metrodome,” and still has a picture of that at his house.

On the track, he was part of the 4×100-meter relay.

Brother Logan a Gopher

Hutton stayed true to his running roots when he coached track at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School from 2005 to 2008 and helped send six runners to state.

He loves to cook, travel and spend time with his family and has Gophers football season tickets. And when he goes to games, he sees his younger brother Logan suit up.

The younger Hutton, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, said his big brother has been a great role model and called him a “major factor” in his decision to sign with Minnesota over offers from Wisconsin and the Naval Academy.

“I always remember waking up and seeing all his medals, and I just really wanted to be just like him,” Logan said.

“He gives me all types of advice, especially off-the-field advice. That’s what he stresses a lot, as far as going to class, keeping my grades up and making sure that I do whatever the coaches say.”

AD job in his future?

While the elder Hutton has already accomplished quite a bit in his professional career, he said he has one more long-term aspiration.

“I’ve always had ambitions of being an athletics director,” he said. “I think it’s too early for me now, but you never know when I’m 50 or something.”

Whether or not he fulfills that goal, he has made a big believer out of Boston, the former University athletics director.

“It used to be that AD’s were sort of in a pipeline. Today they come in all shapes and sizes and they come from different places,” he said.

“Lee could probably get there today from where he is now,” Boston said. “… He’s become a role model for a lot of African-American athletes that are at the University.”