Today’s higher education institutions play a role expanded far beyond the traditional ones of education and research. They are major employers and economic engines, places of debate and community focus. All the issues affecting the broader world seem to find their way in some respect into the life of the college or university.
Such operations demand an integration of a wide array of legal disciplines, with many elements unique to the fabric of American higher education. Nixon Peabody offers such an interdisciplinary practice, devoted specifically to higher education, that can help our clients pursue their institutional missions in the context of an increasingly complex legal environment. Having served the needs of higher education clients for more than a century, we understand the demands faced by leaders of universities, colleges, and research facilities, so we can provide the answers needed for our clients’ real life challenges.
Our Higher Education practice draws on the experience of attorneys across our international platform who have specific higher education experience and have represented a broad spectrum of institutions, including internationally renowned research universities, public universities, small colleges, professional schools, medical schools, and schools of the performing and visual arts. We currently have strong relationships with more than 140 institutions around the globe, including some of the most well-known in the U.S.
Our goal is to support our clients’ missions and to help our clients succeed. We offer comprehensive services for colleges and universities in a variety of areas including: environmental health and safety, tenure disputes, grants and contract, investments, energy, sustainable energy, and renewable energy tax credits, student discipline, corporate governance, civil rights/affirmative action policies, tax-exempt financing, charitable giving and fundraising, restricted fund management, student privacy rights, intercollegiate athletics, construction litigation, immigration, labor and employee benefits, intellectual property and technology transfer, export controls, economic sanctions, and FCPA, protection of human subjects in research, real property and land use management, museums and libraries, medical and professional schools, health services institutions, residency training programs, and academic medical centers.
Our work in the higher education sphere has taught us that quality legal work, trusting relationships, and predictable, affordable costs are prerequisites to success. As a result, our relationships with colleges and universities are as diverse as their needs. The delivery and pricing of our services is a function of what we see as a critical part of our ongoing relationships.
What this means to our clients is that our Higher Education practice has tremendous flexibility in its range of representation. Our presence in so many locations across the U.S. and around the globe provides us with an array of experience and delivery options unmatched by the other law firms working within higher education. We have used a wide range of service models to deliver legal services, from hotlines and attorney secondment to dedicated university work teams and extranets. The breadth of our practice, along with our firm’s exceptionally collaborative work environment, allows us to provide effective solutions in ways uncommon to many large law firms.
Energy case study: conversion of power facility
We advised a university on matters relating to the conversion of its natural gas-fired cogeneration power facilities located at the site of its campus to burn landfill gas. The project involved the construction of a pipeline from the university to the landfill site, as well as a landfill gas processing plant to purify the landfill gas. Nixon Peabody attorneys structured the transaction, provided advice relating to the contract between the university and the owner of the landfill, and advised on financing-related issues.
Sustainable energy case study: sustainable building
We are currently working with groups at several universities on new and retrofit projects that in time will pay for themselves in energy savings and tax incentives. For example, one university client sought to build a new science hall but wanted to ensure that it would adhere at the same time to the university’s sustainability goals. With this in mind, Nixon Peabody worked to find a solution that ultimately included LEED®-compliant conservation easements associated with the project. One such easement has been credited with saving the last unspoiled habitat of an endangered species.
Renewable energy tax credits case study: helping a college become energy independent
As a member of the Clinton Climate Change Initiative and with an ambitious goal to become energy independent, one of the largest community college districts in the U.S. planned to install solar facilities on nine of its campuses. In order to take advantage of favorable tax incentives, which would significantly reduce up-front costs, the institution faced complex structuring challenges as a result of its nonprofit status.
Representing various investors interested in partnering with the institution, our attorneys vetted several structural iterations of the transaction, in each case analyzing the availability of the tax benefits, the integrity of the lease and/or PPA, and the value of the financing and assets. In the end, the parties implemented a leasing model, where the investor will own the solar facilities and lease them to the institution for 20 years. As owner, the investor will benefit from renewable energy cash grants issued by the Treasury, which, pursuant to recent Treasury guidance, can now be received in transactions with a nonprofit lessee.
Currently under construction, the installed solar facilities will result not only in a reduction of the institution’s carbon footprint, but are also intended to contribute to the development of green tech and sustainability courses at the colleges and community education programs.
Environmental health and safety case study: environmental compliance self-assessment
When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its environmental compliance enforcement initiative against colleges and universities, we worked with a private university to design and implement a self-assessment of compliance. Nixon Peabody attorneys then helped the university develop and implement a corrective action plan to bring itself into compliance.
We helped to prepare an inspection readiness manual and procedures for addressing regulatory inspections, and developed and presented a training program to educate internal resources (for faculty with lab responsibilities as well as safety and maintenance personnel) about applicable regulatory requirements and how to institute practical procedures to ensure ongoing compliance and risk prevention. The university needed assistance in the negotiation and implementation of a voluntary compliance audit agreement that resolved their potential liability for compliance issues.
Our attorneys also addressed the issue of student teachers, as well as assisted with a range of other potential issues, such as monitoring of contractors and subcontractors, property management considerations (asbestos, PCBs, mold), and hazardous waste management.
Graduate medical education & accreditation
Nixon Peabody has been representing medical schools, academic medical centers, residency training programs, and institutions involved in medical education for more than 30 years. Richard Minicucci heads Nixon Peabody’s Graduate Medical Education practice and is known nationally and internationally for his experience with accreditation matters. He has represented many of the world’s elite medical institutions.
Privacy rights case study: recovering from data theft
A university administrator’s laptop containing financial and identifying information for a large group of students was stolen. Working with the institution’s counsel and its IT professionals, we reviewed the possible risk exposure and disclosure requirements, providing a quick response plan to meet various state legal requirements. We then offered a comprehensive risk management approach for a data privacy breach, consistent with the institution’s needs and capabilities.
IP and technology transfer
Nixon Peabody attorneys have conducted due diligence and valuation for a public university’s vaccine portfolio, investigated and resolved inventorship disputes between collaborating universities and between universities and private parties, worked with university general counsel regarding intellectual property provisions for a multicenter grant application, provided advice regarding university faculty intellectual property rights, and have provided patent application, preparation, and prosecution for 10 top-tier research institutions.
IP licensing case study: sponsored research agreement for hospital and university
We negotiated a sponsored research agreement with a hospital affiliated with a leading private university to allow for the birth of a start-up biotechnology company. Nixon Peabody attorneys successfully resolved issues arising under relevant conflicts of interest policies and clarified the expected rights in the technology. We also structured payment schedules over a specific time period to fund the university’s research.