Trinity seeks new internal legal counsel


illustration by Julia Poage, staff illustrator

Trinity is currently searching for its first in-house general legal counsel. In January, president Danny Anderson announced the creation of a search committee.

Members of the committee include Jennifer Adamo, director of Risk Management and Insurance; Jim Bradley, chief information officer of Information Technology Services (ITS); Deneese Jones, vice president for Academic Affairs; Gary Logan, vice president for Finance and Administration; Claire Smith, executive assistant to the university president; and Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life.

In the past, Trinity has relied on the external legal firm Dykema Cox Smith, but an internal legal counsel is desirable both because of price — external counsel is paid hourly while internal counsel would operate on a fixed salary — and because of the desire to have someone acclimated to the Trinity environment.

The role of general counsel at Trinity is to facilitate legal oversight of the university. Internal legal counsel can provide training to staff and faculty members on issues including compliance with employment law and Title IX.

Smith explained why Trinity is switching to an internal counsel.

“We’ve had external general counsel for many years,” Smith said. “We’ve been with one company that has served us extremely well, and what we’re looking for now is to bring that institutional knowledge in-house so that we have good access to general counsel, somebody who could really partner with the campus partners and collaborate with them.”

The search committee narrowed down the options from 165 candidates to three. The committee is currently conducting on-campus interviews with the candidates and giving them the opportunity to meet with constituents.

Smith said that the committee is pleased with the results of the search.

“We’re really impressed with the pool of candidates,” Smith said. “They’re very strong, highly qualified and highly motivated to become a part of the Trinity community, so the search committee is very pleased with the way things have gone.”

Logan frequently interacts with legal counsel. He named a number of issues for which the university can contact general counsel.

“There’s such a wide variety of issues and reasons you talk to attorneys, from contract reviews to policy reviews to legal advice,” Logan said. “If you’re thinking about doing something — employment advice, looking at employment issues — there’s a lot going on with many people at the university.”

According to Logan, attitudes towards general counsel and legal work in higher education have changed over the last few decades.

“Legal work used to be more reactive. If something happened, you would call your attorney to help you with the issue,” Logan said. “The whole concept of risk management and enterprise risk management and how general counsel relates to it is really moving in the other direction. It’s preventative work, where you’re trying to look at risk from many different perspectives, risk being the opportunities to do things but also the risk of your goals getting frustrated or risk of something bad happening.”

According to Bradley, an in-house counsel would be invaluable in dealing with financial issues such as negotiating contracts between departments and outside vendors.

“Contracts are a big part of the day-to-day life as an administrator. You’re trying to make sure you get the right vendors, right price, right terms. For example, every vendor we use in ITS, we typically have a contract with,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of legal terminology in contracts, so having a general legal counsel on campus would be very helpful.”

Bradley said that internal legal counsel can be helpful if the university has a public safety crisis. He gave a hypothetical example of an influenza pandemic.

“We would want a lawyer in those conversations because there are legal issues there,” Bradley said. “For example, could we quarantine the campus? Could we say no one is allowed on or off the campus to protect everybody on campus? And then what are the implications for that? We don’t want the university to do anything that’s not completely legal, so having someone who’s part of the community crisis management team helping us make those decisions with an awareness of what the law is is an important thing.”

Bradley also cited “center of attention” events as areas where the university may need legal help.

“There are different types of what’s called ‘center of attention’ events. Sometimes they’re good — one of your professors wins a Nobel prize. But when that happens, you have to make plans,” Bradley said. “What are our legal issues? Who do we cooperate with? What are the rules? The Trinity leadership team is wonderful, and they usually know what to do, but having a lawyer in the room gives you a greater sense of confidence and helps to inform you as you make decisions.”

Bradley said that the transition would be gradual, and the new counsel would still be able to converse with Dykema Cox Smith if needed.

“I suspect what will happen is from now on [is that] calling external counsel will be a decision made by the general counsel,” Bradley said.

Anderson made an online statement to Trinity faculty and staff about the benefits of the search.

“Bringing our day-to-day legal services in house further facilitates delivery and management of all university legal requirements and will result in a reduction of expenses and potential exposure,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson will make the final decision once all the candidates have come to campus.