Small Colleges Are Lawyering Up. Here’s Why.
Industry TrendsLeadershipEducationLegal, Risk, and ComplianceExecutive Search
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March 10, 2020
Industry TrendsLeadershipEducationLegal, Risk, and ComplianceExecutive Search
Russell Reynolds Associates' research “The Rise of the General Counsel” is cited in this article. 


The Forbes article, “Small Colleges Are Lawyering Up. Here’s Why,” featured the Russell Reynolds Associates paper, “The Rise of the General Counsel.” The article is excerpted below. 

Higher education is facing a tsunami of litigation. In addition to the standard docket of lawsuits claiming that a university discriminated against applicants who were denied admission or that a faculty member was unfairly turned down for tenure, a wave of high-profile cases have resulted in universities offering large settlements or having multi-million dollar verdicts returned against them. 


While most higher ed institutions find it necessary to engage outside legal counsel to represent them in litigation, an increasing number are beginning to hire their own general counsel as key members of campus leadership teams. That’s the conclusion of a recent report by Anne Coyle and P.J. Neal of Russell Reynolds Associates, the leadership advisory and executive search firm. They suggest that as more and more legal issues rise, institutions are shifting away from relying on external counsels—who tend to be more reactive than proactive—and toward hiring a general counsel to handle the bulk of an institution’s legal needs internally, reserving the use of external counsel for additional assistance as needed. 

Large universities have long employed general counsel, often staffed with an office of several associates and paralegals. Recently, however, Coyle and Neal claim there’s been a spike in top liberal arts colleges adding general counsel to the staff. 


Smaller institutions may worry about the added costs of hiring a general counsel, but Coyle and Neal argue that going in-house ultimately results in substantial savings in contracted legal work. Because college general counsels often are able to resolve issues themselves, many proactively, they can be more conservative in their use of external counsel and the amount an institution spends on them. 

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