Pierce Atwood’s interdisciplinary Education Practice Group understands the multitude of legal issues facing schools, colleges, and universities. With over 30 years of experience our team is well prepared to counsel private and public academic institutions of all sizes. Our Education Practice Group brings together attorneys with diverse backgrounds, all of whom have in-depth knowledge of the education industry. Whether an issue is related to student affairs, faculty affairs, institutional governance, employment, labor relations, employee benefits, bond financing, construction, land use, real estate, charitable donations, or intellectual property, you can trust our education group to have you covered.
Our work with independent schools and colleges often includes the development of preventative law programs that proactively identify risks before they lead to major, costly claims. We work with in-house counsel and administrators to create clear student and employee policies, fair complaint procedures, clear and enforceable contracts, and to comply with state and federal regulations like Title IX, FERPA, HIPAA, and the ADA. When a claim does arise, our skilled litigators are on-call, ready to help you formulate the right approach to meet your needs. Currently, we are assessing exposure to student class actions regarding tuition refunds related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our education group attorneys provide training to school administrators, faculty, and staff on topics such as sexual harassment prevention, boundary issues, privacy and information security, ADA compliance, and best practices for hiring and contract review. We can also develop targeted training programs for the areas where you need the most assistance.
Many of our lawyers pursue an abiding commitment to the success of educational institutions through board service and committee participation. We are dedicated to providing our education industry clients with comprehensive, quality legal and strategic advice in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Areas of Expertise
As general counsel to several educational institutions, we have advised on a range of matters involving student rights and discrimination:
- Student discipline for academic and social misconduct
- Title IX compliance in the area of sexual assault prevention and response
- Title IX implications in interscholastic athletics programs and student activities
- Accommodating students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, eating disorders and emotional or mental illness.
- Right to access and privacy of student records under FERPA and state statutes
- Campus crimes and safety
- Clery Act
- Violence Against Women Act
- Campus SaVE Act
- Social media, the internet and information privacy
- Student internships and study abroad programs
- Immigration and study abroad programs
Employment Issues in Education
Today’s employer-employee relationship involves the ongoing management of legal risk associated with discrimination, protected class discrimination, harassment, whistleblower, retaliation, failure to accommodate, and related claims. We help develop prevention strategies such as:
- Training focused on employment discrimination, accommodations, leave, performance management and investigations
- Regular updates to administrators on new developments and trends
- Defense of claims in all administrative, state and federal forums
In addition, whether it’s under Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, the FMLA, the FLSA, the OSH Act, the NLRA, state law discrimination, wage and hour, wage payment or leave requirements, or workers compensation laws, we help clients make decisions concerning their workforce that comply with today’s legal and regulatory environment. We also have experience assisting schools with faculty and student immigration issues. Learn more about our work in the area of employment law.
Tenure & Faculty Affairs
At the heart of the employment needs of a higher education institution are the faculty. Faculty members embrace autonomy and often lack a solid understanding of institutional policies and procedures. Our employment attorneys are well versed in the issues that arise surrounding the management of faculty. We can help provide expert counsel in the following areas:
- Letters of Appointment and Employment Contracts
- Advancement and Tenure
- Faculty Discipline
- Grievance and Arbitration Provisions
- Academic Freedom
- Collective Bargaining
- Funded Research & Compliance with Grant Restrictions
Title IX Independent Investigations
Title IX, a comprehensive federal law passed in 1972, requires gender equity for male and female students in every educational program that receives federal funding. Title IX applies to access to higher education, sexual assault and harassment, athletics, and many other aspects of education.
Whether they need to bring their practices into compliance with the latest guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), or they are facing Title IX complaints, schools need skilled attorneys who have a deep understanding of the law as well as experience performing independent investigations.
Pierce Atwood’s education group attorneys conduct independent investigations in sexual assault and harassment cases, other matters involving student conduct, employment disputes, and other situations requiring the impartial determination of facts. We also guide clients through the development of Title IX policies and procedures, and provide Title IX compliance training to school administrators.
Our clients include some of the most well-known independent schools and higher ed institutions in the region. With our depth of experience and connections in the education industry, Pierce Atwood is uniquely positioned to meet the compliance needs of educational institutions and to perform the type of thorough independent investigation necessary for any Title IX or other complaint.
General Business Matters for Educational Organizations
Our business attorneys have represented numerous New England-based colleges, universities, preparatory schools, educational organizations, and other nonprofit organizations in a range of transactional matters, including mergers, acquisitions, financings, tax-exempt financings, and commercial contract negotiations.
Whether you are considering a strategic investment to fund an endowment, a merger with another institution, purchasing cutting-edge technology to improve the classroom experience, or signing a contract with an important vendor, we will supply leadership and timely, practical advice to minimize risk and help you meet your goals. We take particular pride in providing practical, real-time business counseling, drawing upon the wide range of situations and circumstances we have encountered in our careers advising clients in the field of education.
Intellectual Property & Technology for Educational Organizations
Whether you need to obtain a trademark for your school’s logo or protect a copyrightable publication, every academic institution has a need to safeguard its intellectual property assets, including personal information. Our IP attorneys can help you determine how to prioritize and protect your intellectual property, ensuring alignment with institutional goals, in the areas of:
- IP licensing
- Technology procurement
- Privacy & data security
- Research & technology transfer
- Internet law & social media
While school boards nearly always have the power to make final decisions, most schools and colleges employ a system of shared governance that creates opportunities for administrators, faculty, and staff to provide their feedback. While there are numerous benefits to a shared governance system, there are also abundant challenges that can lead to legal risk.
We help schools, colleges and universities navigate through complex issues of conflicts of interest, director independence, and other governance matters. We have assisted clients to update governance documents (articles, bylaws, policies and procedures) to reflect modern governance concepts. We also advise in the areas of state and federal regulation compliance, financial exigency, and the public disclosure requirements that surround institutional governance in an academic setting. Many of our attorneys can provide first-person insight into governance matters given their own experiences on the boards for local schools and colleges such as the University of Maine System, College of Wooster, University of Richmond, Maine College of Art, the Keene State College Endowment, and North Yarmouth Academy.
Development, Planned Giving & Endowment Management
College and school development and advancement officers regularly look to us for responsive advice on development and planned giving matters, from full-service representation in the context of complex, substantial, or unusual gifts from donors, counsel on the design and implementation of sophisticated giving strategies, and advocacy in trust or estate controversies, to practical advice and guidance on day-to-day development issues, including with respect to tax reporting, gift substantiation obligations, and estate and trust administration. In addition, we advise colleges and schools on endowment management matters, from proper fund investment and expenditure to the strategic modification or release of inappropriate donor restrictions. Bringing our broad-based experience in the tax, non-profit, and trust and estate planning and administration spaces to bear, we also offer practical guidance to college and school clients during the design and implementation of important planned giving and development initiatives, including the development or revision of gift acceptance policies.
Energy Issues for Educational Institutions
Pierce Atwood’s energy lawyers understand the multi-disciplinary nature of energy project development, and have the requisite expertise to assist clients with the commercial, regulatory, tax, real estate, land use, economic, environmental, and financial issues underpinning the successful development of energy projects. We structure and negotiate the full array of agreements essential to a successful project, and help our clients design strategies to maximize the value of tax benefits and all available state and federal renewable or solar energy tax credits.
We have worked with a number of educational institutions on issues related to development of solar PV installations on school property, including negotiating power purchase agreements, long-term leases, and property tax issues. We also advise on general energy and policy matters.