Higher Education

Reed Smith attorneys understand the campus environment.  Our higher education lawyers counsel leaders of colleges and universities nationwide.  We lead the leaders to make positive and ethical choices in resolving campus conflicts and challenges.  The challenges facing higher educational institutions run the full gamut of legal concerns that confront businesses, albeit in an academic environment.  Thus, the leaders our higher education lawyers counsel include persons from a wide variety of roles on campus.  We routinely work with presidents, vice presidents, general counsel and other administrators. In addition, we work with trustees, faculty, coaches and students.

It is the presence of students that makes educational institutions different from any other type of client. Students interject a new dynamic into every issue, from the already-complex areas of civil rights to the use of technology and employment law.

Our attorneys provide counsel in a wide range of student-related matters, including:

  • Drafting disciplinary codes
  • Dealing with dating violence
  • Responding to student Title IX complaints or lawsuits
  • Advising about disability compliance
  • Defending decisions to impose discipline
  • Complying with FERPA
  • Developing or applying policies on such topics as hazing, sexual harassment, and respect for others

Colleges and universities encounter a variety of employment issues. Some, such as contract negotiation, unionization, labor disputes and employment discrimination cases, resemble those faced by business corporations, but with their own special twists.  Others, however, are unique to the university setting.  Reed Smith lawyers frequently deal with campus employment issues such as faculty grievances, allegations of discriminatory or wrongful treatment in either the granting or denial of tenure, or disputes arising from the actual or attempted dismissal of a tenured faculty member.

We negotiate and draft employment contracts with some of the college’s highest visibility leaders: its president and its athletics coaches.  Reed Smith lawyers also advise on compliance with NCAA rules, conduct confidential investigations of alleged violations, and appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Scientific legal issues continue to expand on campuses.  This has resulted from several factors: the expansion of campus research facilities, increasing collaboration with hospitals, and increased opportunities to explore revenue-generation from research efforts and resulting intellectual property assets.  Our attorneys provide a broad range of services to many campus leaders on the formulation and implementation of policies regarding research integrity and computer security; invention disclosures and patent protection; software design and licensing; and perfecting intellectual property rights and filings, both in the United States and internationally.  We work closely with institutions of higher education in exploring and completing the licensing of university technologies and the creation of incubator companies to commercially exploit such technologies.  We also provide advice on copyright issues, the ownership of the product of research efforts, and the protection of trademarks or school symbols.

With respect to regulation of government-funded research and development, our government contract lawyers represent research institutions in government transfer of technology and licensing of intellectual property; compliance with requirements under government cooperative agreements, grants and contracts; fraud and cost-mischarging allegations; and contractor rights in competitive procurements.  Our export compliance lawyers advise clients concerning export controls on the international transfer of technology.

Practitioners in tax and estates law also regularly assist institutions of higher education.  Most colleges are tax-exempt entities and seek our advice in three broad categories: retaining tax-exempt status, compensation-related matters, and charitable giving.  Attorneys from our estates group assist colleges and universities by handling donation and trust litigation in a variety of courts. 

Our public finance attorneys serve as bond counsel, special tax counsel, disclosure counsel and borrower's counsel in tax-exempt and taxable bond financing, and bank borrowings for colleges and universities.  We have structured some of the most innovative financing for institutions of higher education in the United States, including master indenture structures, pooled financing and off-balance sheet financing.  We also advise our college and university clients on the tax rules applicable to fund-raising campaigns, management contracts, and sponsored research agreements involving tax-exempt bond financed facilities, and we have provided counsel regarding First Amendment issues arising in the tax-exempt financing of facilities at institutions with religious affiliations.

Our health care lawyers represent universities that have hospitals and advise campuses on their obligations under HIPAA and other privacy compliance.  Our benefits lawyers design and implement a full range of retirement plans, assist higher education in the delivery of health and other welfare benefits to campus employees, and advise clients on the impact of ERISA, COBRA and IRS requirements.

Our environmental lawyers represent colleges and universities on a wide variety of matters, including:

  • Due diligence in acquisitions
  • Medical, radioactive and hazardous waste disposal issues
  • Asbestos removal
  • Environmental enforcement actions and litigation
  • Termination of nuclear regulatory licenses
  • Environmental audits and plan analysis
  • Remediation and voluntary clean-up actions
  • Indemnification claims
  • Review of environmental assessments

In all of these areas, we have the background and ability to offer preventive advice and to represent colleges and universities in specific controversies in the wide range of matters that are critically important to educational institutions.  We conduct seminars for faculty and staff, and assist administrators in drafting and implementing policies in attempts to avoid legal disputes.  When it is too late for preventive counsel, or when unexpected conflicts arise, we can provide the experience and litigation skills to represent colleges and universities in court.