Educational Services

Robinson+Cole regularly serves as outside counsel, providing advisory, transactional, and litigation services to meet the needs that are unique to educational institutions, from large universities and midsize colleges to independent schools. We provide legal services to educational institutions in a broad range of practice areas that shape the student, faculty, and employee experience.

Full Service

The issues faced by our education clients can be just as diverse and complex as the governing board, administrative, employee, and student segments that make up their community. Drawing upon the collective experience of every practice group Robinson+Cole has to offer, our Education Group provides a collaborative approach to client matters. As our clients face challenging times in terms of regulatory compliance, we provide clear and practical guidance to meet their needs.

Knowing a legal issue always has a business or organizational impact; our lawyers assess risk and work with clients to provide practical solutions. When disputes do arise, our attorneys regularly participate in processes to resolve the disputes early and efficiently. If mediation or negotiation proves unsuccessful, we are prepared to engage in binding dispute resolution in any forum as well in litigation. Our group has a wide range of experience in the following areas:

  • construction, environmental, land use, and real estate
  • employee benefits and compensation – education
  • financing
  • governance and tax issues
  • immigration – education
  • intellectual property
  • labor relations and employment
  • planned giving and fundraising
  • public safety and campus security
  • sourcing and outsourcing
  • student affairs

Education Know-How

Our lawyers closely monitor pressing developments faced by education clients and offer a proactive approach to problem solving. We maintain active membership in, and attend and present at national conferences for, leading organizations such as the National Association of College and University Attorneys, the Higher Education Real Estate Lawyers, and the Licensing Executive Society.

Our firm structure and service standards offer clients personal attention, responsiveness, cost efficiency, and creative, alternative approaches to fees.

Construction, Environmental, Land Use, and Real Estate

From acquisition and compliance to renovation and construction to operation and maintenance, our lawyers are experienced in the unique pressures faced by educational institutions when they undertake capital improvements, including funding, timetables, and community outreach. We have experience with legal matters surrounding administrative and classroom buildings, dormitories, parking garages, libraries, laboratories, dining halls, restaurants, athletic facilities, and retail space. Our team assists academic clients with legal matters in the following areas:

  • complex design construction and renovation agreements involving student residences and mixed affordable housing
  • procurement and contracting of design and construction services for capital improvements, investment properties, and facilities maintenance
  • resolution of construction-related disputes through alternative dispute resolution or litigation
  • environmental permitting and enforcement matters, brownfield development, financing, due diligence reviews, compliance reviews, negotiation of risk allocation and transfer mechanisms, green building issues, and environmental cleanups
  • land and improved property acquisition, sales, permitting, zoning, and financing
  • land, office, retail, restaurant, and other commercial property leasing, subleasing, portfolio management, and licensing, including brokerage matters
  • telecommunications licensing and installation
  • property easements, reciprocal easements, restrictive covenants, traffic control, and shared-use agreements

Data Privacy + Security 

Education clients benefit from our broad-based knowledge of data privacy and security laws and regulations, as well as data breach preparedness, response, notification, remediation, coordination, and litigation, including investigations by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and state attorneys general. Our lawyers are well versed in data mapping and development of enterprise-wide privacy and security plans, compliance with various privacy and security requirements, and industry-specific regulations. To safeguard data against accidental or deliberate disclosure, the counsel we provide on practices and policies assists educational institutions in the following ways: 

  • complying with FERPA and HIPAA 
  • using enterprise-wide privacy and security programs 
  • drafting policies and procedures and training staff 
  • implementing administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect paper and electronic data
  • developing website and mobile app privacy policies and terms and conditions of use 
  • implementing social media policies, practices, and procedures 

Additionally, we have developed data breach notification programs for clients that are compliant with state and federal laws and regulations. In that process, we regularly assist clients with actively preparing for a data breach response, including vendor choice and prenegotiating contracts for forensic, notification, and call center services. We help in preselecting and putting a data breach response team in place. Further, we conduct table top exercises with data breach response teams to prepare for a real data breach so, if that should happen, the response is organized, efficient, and effective. 

Employee Benefits and Compensation – Education

Our Employee Benefits and Compensation Group focuses on providing benefit solutions that meet the business needs of our clients while promoting compliance with the myriad laws governing employee benefit plans. Our work involves design, implementation, and compliance for a broad spectrum of plans, including the following:

  • tax-qualified pension plans, including cash balance plans
  • tax-qualified profit-sharing plans, including 403(b) and 401(k) plans
  • employer plans covering unionized employees, including multiemployer plans
  • executive compensation arrangements, including 457(b) and 457(f) plans
  • health and welfare benefit plans, including COBRA and HIPAA issues
  • cafeteria plans
  • fringe benefit programs
  • employment and other employee agreements for employers

Financing

Our educational clients benefit from our lawyers' extensive history of handling legal matters from both sides of the financing table. Drawing upon decades of serving as bond counsel to issuing authorities and representing borrowers or lenders, our lawyers find solutions to a broad range of finance matters, including the following:

  • bank financings and tax-exempt bond issues, including credit-enhanced and private placement transactions
  • authorization for financings
  • fixed-rate and variable-rate bond issues, as well as those utilizing interest rate swap agreements to hedge interest rates
  • covenant compliance for issuance of additional debt
  • bond and debt documents
  • capital campaigns and other fundraising activities in connection with financings
  • due diligence review and preparation of disclosure for official statements, the rendering of required opinions, and post-issuance compliance services
  • completion of new Form 990, Schedule K, and arbitrage rebate compliance

Governance and Tax Issues

Our lawyers help educational institutions keep one step ahead of ever-changing governance and tax issues. We regularly assist our client boards of directors or trustees with governance matters. We also guide clients in addressing evolving local, state, and federal laws. Our team has extensive experience in the following areas:

  • corporate bylaws and certificates of incorporation
  • conflict-of-interest policies for trustees, officers, and senior management
  • trustee liability, insurance, and indemnification
  • committee structures and policies of boards
  • 501(c)(3) compliance matters
  • unrelated business income
  • sales use tax and real estate tax exemptions
  • "intermediate sanctions" and related compensation issues
  • IRS tax audits
  • scholarship funds and awards

Immigration – Education

Our immigration lawyers advise education clients on workforce matters relating to the following areas:

  • handling J-1 visas for scholars and professors
  • advising on student visa issues
  • filing green card cases through Special Handling for faculty, as well as outstanding professor/researcher petitions
  • drafting policies regarding payment of visa costs and fees and beginning the green card process, as well as repayment agreements
  • filing J waivers for scholars and physicians
  • complying with IRCA/I-9 Forms and deemed export issues
  • tracking cases using a secure web-based system that allows employers ready access to up-to-date information, as well as customized reports

Intellectual Property

Our lawyers understand the ever-changing intellectual property challenges faced by academic institutions. We advise on intellectual property law matters as they relate to education institutions as well as provide guidance on compliance with most major federal regulations applicable to intellectual property and higher education, including the following:

  • trademark procurement and portfolio management
  • copyright protection
  • digital media
  • privacy and data security protection for education records, including Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Clery Act compliance
  • regulation of research, including ownership and licensing of inventions, the Bayh-Dole Act, and export control issues related to overseas research and research by foreign students
  • issues associated with the use of social media and the Internet, including P2P file-sharing and hate speech or libel
  • joint ventures and affiliation agreements
  • campus technology and software licensing, including outsourcing and cloud computing
  • distance education and online programs, including Web accessibility, copyright, and contracting
  • e-commerce
  • litigation of patent, copyright, trademark, licensing, and other intellectual property disputes

Internal and Government Investigations

Robinson+Cole lawyers have extensive experience representing clients in conducting internal investigations and responding to both government and internal investigations. We understand how to work with administrators, trustees, and other leaders at educational institutions to effectively respond to allegations or concerns of allegations of misconduct. Our work in this area routinely includes:

  • conducting interviews of key witnesses, including employees, and third parties;
  • identifying and securing relevant paper and electronic records;
  • analyzing relevant laws and regulations;
  • evaluating internal controls, document retention policies, and compliance programs;
  • reporting our findings to administrators or Boards of Trustees;
  • preparing written materials in connection with the investigation, both for public consumption and client-eyes-only purposes;
  • coordinating with third party professionals, such as private investigators, accountants, and media relations firms;
  • evaluating applicable defenses and mitigating factors;
  • pursuing restitution, either by working with prosecutors and government investigators or through civil litigation;
  • submitting self-disclosures to government agencies to avoid or minimize penalties or intrusive government oversight;
  • negotiating creative and favorable settlements to criminal or civil investigations;
  • preparing employees for government interviews or to testify at in examinations under oath, before a grand jury, or at trial
  • assisting in the compliance with, or opposition to, compelled production in the form of civil investigative demands, summonses, and search warrants

Labor Relations and Employment

Our lawyers provide advice to education clients on a variety of labor and employment issues, including the following:

  • litigation defense in disability, discrimination, and harassment claims before state and federal agencies and courts
  • tenure and promotion disputes
  • collective bargaining and union relations
  • labor proceedings, including mediation, arbitration, and administrative hearings before state and federal agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board 
  • compliance with state and federal employment, discrimination, and wage and hour laws
  • drafting and reviewing faculty and staff handbooks
  • preparation of severance agreements
  • internal investigations involving alleged employee misconduct
  • high-risk terminations
  • cost-containment measures, including workforce reductions

Planned Giving and Fundraising

Our lawyers guide educational institution clients through the legal nuances involved in the planned giving and fundraising process. We assist in the following areas:

  • gift acceptance matters and related policies
  • reformation and cypres proceedings and will and trust disputes
  • endowment and Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act matters
  • charitable solicitation registration and regulatory issues

Public Safety and Campus Security

Educational institutions face a wide spectrum of potential safety and security issues, ranging from structural and environmental hazards to on-campus law enforcement activity to preparedness. Our lawyers assist clients in addressing safety and security concerns on a wide spectrum of matters, including the following:

  • campus threat assessment and state and federal crime reporting compliance
  • coordination with local law enforcement-from investigation through prosecution-of on-campus crime activity
  • construction safety procedures or advisory manuals
  • construction operations in and around occupied spaces
  • facility-wide or project-specific health and safety policies, as well as health and safety enforcement
  • legal (standard of care) evaluations of continuity of operation plans
  • litigation related to civil rights claims against campus police

Sourcing and Outsourcing

We understand the varied and sophisticated supplier and business partner relationships necessary to operate a competitive academic institution. Our lawyers provide a full-service approach to business transactions for sourcing goods and services and, where desired, outsourcing technologies and functions. We regularly handle legal matters involving the following:

  • applications and infrastructure maintenance
  • business processes and operations such as food services and finance and accounting
  • systems procurement and implementation for critical campus systems, such as campus communication networks and fire and safety infrastructure

Student Affairs

Our lawyers understand that the rapidly changing area of student rights is of paramount importance to our education clients. We regularly assist clients with student issues by performing the following:

  • advising, counseling, and representing in litigation concerning student disciplinary proceedings
  • advising on the interplay of student privacy, civil liability, and criminal law in cases of sexual assault or other crimes involving students
  • defending against allegations of discrimination by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
  • drafting and reviewing student handbook requirements on student-to-student behavior codes, student discipline, and other issues
  • advising about accommodations for students with disabilities, including mental health issues and learning disabilities
  • counseling on students' rights of privacy and access under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state laws regarding the Freedom of Information Act
  • counseling on risk management issues pertaining to on-campus and school-sponsored trips
  • providing guidance regarding student immigration status, including work and travel issues


 

    • Experiences
      • Representation of Providence College in drafting and negotiating the design and construction agreements for the Ruane Center for Humanities, a 63,000-square-foot building constructed to accommodate its new Development of Western Civilization program, as well as offices for the School of Arts & Sciences, the center for the Study of the Humanities, the Liberal Arts Honors Program, and the Departments of English and History.

      • Representation of an independent coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school in negotiating a design contract for a 24,000-square-foot science building designed and built in accordance with sustainability principles of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council.  

      • Representation of a Connecticut town in drafting the construction and design services agreements for the proposed renovation of a high school, the roof replacement at an elementary school, and a new town hall and police station.

      • Representation of Providence College in drafting and negotiating the design and construction agreements for the Ruane Center for Humanities, a 63,000-square-foot building constructed to accommodate its new Development of Western Civilization program, as well as offices for the School of Arts & Sciences, the center for the Study of the Humanities, the Liberal Arts Honors Program, and the Departments of English and History.

      • Representation of Common Ground in New Haven, Connecticut, the nation's longest-running environmental charter high school, in preparing RFP materials and a construction contract for the construction of a new center for learning and leadership, renovating existing school buildings, and making extensive sustainability upgrades on the charter school's 21-acre campus.

      • Representation of King Low Heywood Thomas School in Stamford, Connecticut, in preparing design and construction management contracts for the phased renovations to the Upper School, including a state-of-the-art academic center, new common space with integrated vertical circulation, substantial renovation of support space, asbestos abatement, and infrastructure improvements.

    • News
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