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Neil Fulton Announced as University of South Dakota Law School Dean

Neil Fulton, USD School of Law Dean portrait Neil Fulton, a native of Miller, South Dakota, has been named Dean of the USD School of Law.

VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota has named Miller, South Dakota, native Neil Fulton, current federal public defender, South Dakota Bar Examiner and former chief of staff to then-Gov. Michael Rounds, Dean of the University of South Dakota School of Law. He will begin full-time this June.

Fulton attended Yale University and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 1994. Following college, he attended the University of Minnesota School of Law. He graduated summa cum laude, first in his class, in 1997 and received the Devitt Award for excellence in trial advocacy courses and the Kaplan Award for overall academic excellence at graduation. He spent two summers working with the May, Adam, Gerdes & Thompson law firm in Pierre during law school, trying his first jury trial in Fort Pierre between his second and third years.

Fulton then went on to serve as a law clerk for Judge Diana Murphy of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals after graduating from law school. After his clerkship, he returned to May, Adam, Gerdes & Thompson where he served as general counsel to the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance and the South Dakota Public Entity Pool for Liability, the South Dakota Bankers Association and the Office of the Governor. During this time, Fulton lobbied the South Dakota legislature for a variety of public and private clients.

In 2007, Fulton became Gov. Rounds’ chief of staff. In that capacity, he oversaw the day-to-day operations of state government, managed legislative and budgetary proposals for the Office of the Governor, drafted legislation on many issues and worked with public and private organizations across the state.

In 2010, Fulton was chosen by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as federal public defender for North Dakota and South Dakota. In this role, he oversaw a staff of 45 lawyers, investigators and support staff in five offices across both states. He has served on the Defender Sentencing Guideline Committee, the Performance Measurement Working Group and was co-chair of the Defender Legislative Committee. He has testified before the United States Sentencing Commission about tribal sentencing issues, violent offenses and child pornography; and has served on the Sentencing Commission’s ad hoc and standing Tribal Issues Advisory Group. Fulton’s appellate advocacy experience includes arguing almost 40 cases before the Eighth Circuit and more than 10 before the South Dakota Supreme Court.

“Neil brings an exceptional set of skills and experience to USD and we are incredibly excited to have him join us as our next leader of the law school,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “Since the moment he stepped on campus for his interview, there has been tremendous energy throughout the law school. The passion from our students has been outstanding and is an excellent indicator of how promising our future looks for the USD School of Law.”

Fulton was one of three finalists who interviewed on campus in February. The national search was led by a committee chaired by Dr. Mary Nettleman, dean of the USD Sanford School of Medicine.

“Neil Fulton’s broad experiences in South Dakota make him an excellent choice to lead the law school as he looks to accelerate bridging the academic world with the needs of the employers and professional opportunities in South Dakota and the region,” said Mark Mickelson, former state legislator, chair of the law school task force committee and USD alumnus. “Congratulations to President Gestring and the search committee on recruiting an all-star talent.”

Download a high-resolution photo of Neil Fulton


USD’s Knudson School of Law prepares students for leadership in the administration of justice in South Dakota, including in rural areas where the demand is great, and for private practice, public service, business and other law-related endeavors anywhere. Its joint degree program allows students to also earn one of nine master’s degrees within the traditional three-year law curriculum, which includes course tracks in business, commercial, constitutional, criminal, employment, environmental, Indian, real estate and tax law as well as civil litigation and estate planning.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News