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How a Willamette Law Alumnus went from serving coffee to becoming Dutch Bros. General Counsel

by Sarah Bello,

From slinging drinks at a stand to providing legal advice and assistance, Josh Lute JD’07 truly knows the ins and outs of Dutch Bros. Coffee. 

As a high schooler in Grants Pass, Ore., Lute got a job at what was then the local coffee shop — a small chain with three locations and good vibes — Dutch Bros. He eventually moved to the Willamette Valley to attend Oregon State University for speech communication, and a professor there encouraged him to look into law school.

After working as a paralegal for a couple of years, he made the leap and applied to Willamette Law. He discovered litigation and took an advanced trial course that he enjoyed, as well as business law courses. With a growing family of eventually five young kids at home, he treated law school as his job but made it a point to stay connected to his peers.

Josh Lute
Josh Lute JD'07

Lute and his family were a part of an on-campus group called Law Partners, which held events for students with families. He jokes that his number one extracurricular activity was spending time with his family, though he did find time for other student groups and events. During his 2L year, he served as secretary for the Student Bar Association, and as a 3L, was vice president of the class.

“I really enjoyed law school,” Lute says. “I found something I was good at and liked. I liked learning about new areas of law, and I had really good professors, who tried to teach how to be a good lawyer and not just how to pass the bar.”

Lute also completed two clerkships, one for the Special Litigation Unit of the Oregon Department of Justice and one as a summer associate for Perkins Coie. To give himself a break while studying for the bar, he applied for a weekend barista job at Dutch Bros. When the company held a celebration for the opening of its 100th stand, he attended and reconnected with the founders. He mentioned he was planning to be a lawyer in Portland.

Five years later, after clerking for federal magistrate Judge Janice Stewart of the U.S. District Court and working at Perkins Coie, Dutch Bros. called, looking for a general counsel.

“I said I wasn’t sure if I was the right person, and then I didn’t hear back for months and months,” Lute says. “The following year, they started calling me again and asked to interview me in early 2012. After the interview, they made me an offer. It was pretty unexpected, but it was an amazing opportunity.”

Lute left his job at Perkins Coie and moved back to Grants Pass. His work now is very different from his time at the firm, where he focused on the more limited area of employment law. As a general counsel, there are certain areas of law that come up more frequently than others, but he doesn’t necessarily specialize in one. When he needs help, he reaches out to his network of connections. He compares his job to constantly overhauling a car’s engine while still driving down the road.

“The business still has to run and make money, and you’re part of the conversation, helping the company do what they do,” he says. “It’s important to be a strategic partner as opposed to a transactional partner. When you’re brought in at the strategy level, you get legal thoughts involved in the early stages of planning. I really enjoy that and helping the business succeed.

At Dutch Bros., every leader works to protect the culture, which is an absolute distinguishing factor. Our product is love, and coffee is the medium. How we ‘keep it Dutch’ is critical to who we are.”

On September 15, 2021, Dutch Brothers became a publicly traded company. According to The Oregonian, the IPO was the biggest in state history and made the coffee company Oregon’s fifth-most-valuable company.

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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