Nixon Peabody Higher Education industry practice

Higher Education

The business model of higher education is changing, and the expectations are higher than ever. Students and parents are demanding affordable education, top faculty, distance learning options and first-rate campus facilities. With decades of experience, our team is a trusted partner to institutions like yours, who are balancing growth, financial prudence and an educational mission.

We provide elite client service and comprehensive guidance across the broad range of legal issues your institution may face—from protecting your intellectual property to complying with Title IX to investing in your real estate and infrastructure. The possibilities are as varied as the institutions themselves.

We serve as general counsel, special counsel and consultant, taking a future-focused approach to your legal needs. We believe anticipation and a proactive strategy are crucial to effective legal counsel, and our industry experience will help you address the ever-changing world of higher education.

More than attorneys, we are members of the team working to ensure your institution’s short- and long-term success. And we can connect your institution with key players in government, real estate, financial services and other business areas.

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We work with

  • Public and private colleges and universities
  • Research institutions
  • Medical schools
  • Schools of the performing and visual arts
  • Charitable foundations and organizations
  • Museums and libraries

Recent Experience

We support our college and university clients’ missions and help them succeed by offering a deep bench of service areas including: environmental health and safety, tenure disputes, employee benefits, grants and contracts, investments, energy, student discipline, corporate governance, civil rights/affirmative action policies, tax-exempt financing, charitable giving and fundraising, restricted fund management, student privacy rights, student housing, intercollegiate athletics, construction litigation, immigration, labor, employee benefits, intellectual property and technology transfer, export controls, economic sanctions, FCPA, government contracting, government relations, renewable energy tax credits, 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.

  • Construction projects and litigation: multi-campus expansion—We represented one of the oldest nonprofit owner/operators in the Boston area. We were instrumental in its growth from a single campus into a multi-campus seniors health system via acquisition, re-development and bond refunding transactions, as well as successfully handling myriad operations-generated legal matters.
  • Energy: 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.
  • Environmental health and safety: 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.
  • Export controls, economic sanctions and the FCPA: compliance programs and training—We have advised universities, colleges, research facilities and many companies (large and small) in connection with FCPA and export control compliance programs and training.
  • 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.
  • Government contracting: government relations and congressional lobbying—Our team assisted a major public university with government relations and congressional lobbying for certain earmarking. In addition, we are representing a large public university with developing funding support for new technology labs and projects and a university system in developing strategies for addressing major infrastructure projects. This includes strategies for funding support of these projects.
  • Government relations and public policy: 2020 strategic plan—Nixon Peabody attorneys are assisting a state university’s Office of the President with advice and comprehensive strategic government relations and public policy services to aid the university in its larger and complex mission interfacing with federal, state and local governments. Most notably, we provided the president with guidance and direction for their 2020 plan, the university’s plan to become sharper in both focus and physical appearance as well as academically stronger than ever before. With our help, this plan positions the university as one of the top research universities in the country.
  • Intercollegiate athletics: college athletic conference—We represented a college athletic conference serving as primary intellectual property counsel, including protection of trademarks and obtaining various domain names from cybersquatters. We also conducted a thorough governance and compliance review for the client and made recommendations related to possible changes in its form of organization and methods of governance.
  • Land use and development: campus expansion—We represented a technical design and engineering college in connection with its acquisition and disposition of parcels of land and easement rights in connection with the expansion of its campus.
  • Privacy rights: 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.
  • Real property and leasing: relocation of law school—We represented the largest urban university in the U.S. in connection with the acquisition, development and financing of a commercial condominium unit for the relocation of its law school and the development and financing of student housing facilities on multiple campuses, including advice in structuring transactions, selecting bond issuer, drafting and negotiation of conveyance documents, negotiation of design and construction documents, negotiation of development and management agreements, review and negotiation of financing documents and tax advice.
  • Renewable energy tax credits: helping a college 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.
  • Research facilities development: supercomputing center—We represented a consortium of five major research universities in coming together to create a supercomputing center. The work involved the formation of a new entity to operate the facility and an innovative use of new markets tax credits to lower the costs of financing. The joint venture structure incorporates the operational aspects of the facility, including intellectual property licensing policies and joint use agreements. Working together with each of the university counsels, provosts for research and ultimately their presidents, we were able to fashion a structure to serve each of the institutions into the future and are honored to continue to serve as general counsel.
  • Securitization of IP portfolios: monetization royalty stream—We represented a major California university in the monetization of its royalty stream for an anti-cancer drug, initially working with the major buyer of royalty streams, but ultimately selling to the major pharmaceutical manufacturer of the drug in return for a large upfront payment and two success payments depending on future product sales. We also represented university inventors of the HPV vaccine in the sale of their royalty interests due from their university.
  • Student housing: residential hall—Represented a college in connection with the issuance of its $14,250,000 Tax-Exempt Revenue Bonds, Series 2011, of which the proceeds were used to refinance a residential hall and the campus center.
  • Student matters: fraternity housing—Represented a university and worked with its governing board on the planning and execution of a policy to withdraw recognition of fraternities after several widely publicized incidents of wrongdoing. We dealt with concerns of alumni, re-dedication of fraternity housing and the successful defense of a lawsuit arising out of the action.
  • Sustainable energy: sustainable building—We represented 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.
  • Tax exempt and conventional financing—Nixon Peabody attorneys have represented several universities in restructuring their tax-exempt debt after the auction rate market ceased to function, as well as a university that refinanced several projects with synthetic fixed-rate refunding bonds.
  • Title IX: changing and protecting student lives under Title IX—We have significant jury trial and appellate trial experience representing educational institutions before federal and state courts in Title IX cases. Our experience includes the defense of institutions in claims arising out of alleged faculty-on-student and student-on-student sexual harassment or assault. We have also advised institutions on the remedial measures and investigative procedures to ensure Title IX compliance when an alleged incident is reported. We have counseled our educational clients on the proper steps in student disciplinary processes and defended institutions in lawsuits brought by students challenging the disciplinary determinations.
  • 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: 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 startup 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.
  • Working with entrepreneurs and startups—Nixon Peabody represents a startup company developing live-attenuated viral vaccines at a business incubator located at a well-known university. We met with the founders to better understand their goals, assisted them with organizing their business and drafted shareholder, nondisclosure, invention assignment and employment agreements. Given our experience with entrepreneurs and startup businesses, as well as venture capitalists and private equity funds, we are confident that this client has eliminated legal roadblocks that could stand in the way of obtaining necessary funding and hinder success, both for the client and the university to whom they would pay royalties.

US universities sever Russian ties, shed investments following Ukrainian invasion

The Business Journals | March 04, 2022

Washington, DC Corporate partner Mike Cooney, a member of NP’s Higher Education team, is quoted in this article on the moves by some colleges and universities to divest Russian assets following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Remember the flurry of tuition-refund lawsuits? Here's what you need to know.

The Business Journals | February 03, 2022

In this Q&A feature, Providence Complex Disputes partner Steven Richard, leader of NP’s Higher Education team, discusses the state of lawsuits arguing that institutions owe students refunds for moving operations and instruction online, noting some of the variables that could come into play over the next year.

Transgender student rights under Title IX – the still-evolving and shifting landscape

Rhode Island Bar Journal | January 10, 2022

Providence partner and leader of the Higher Education and Title IX teams Steven Richard and department attorney Caitlyn Horbert, both of the Complex Commercial Disputes practice, contributed this article on a much-debated and evolving Title IX question of whether discrimination against a transgender student in an education program or activity constitutes discrimination “on the basis of sex” subject to the statute’s protections.

US District Court of RI continues operations during pandemic

The Brown Daily Herald | February 18, 2021

Providence Complex Commercial Disputes partner Steven Richard is quoted in this article on virtual legal proceedings in Rhode Island during the pandemic, noting he has seen a greater degree of collegiality among attorneys and more willingness to work together with opposing counsel.

The Myth of Perpetuity in Foundation Strategy

Stanford Social Innovation Review | December 11, 2020

In this article by Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s news website, Washington, D.C. Corporate partner Mike Cooney is quoted for his outlook on whether foundations can increase payouts and/or alter their founding intent.

Standing Apart

Intellectual Property Magazine | October 01, 2020

Intellectual Property partner and Life Sciences Practice co-chair Seth Levy and Intellectual Property counsel Peter Wied, both of Los Angeles, contributed this article, based on their alert, which examines the Gensetix Inc v Baylor College of Medicine case and a recent ruling to allow an infringement case to proceed without the state university patent owner’s involvement.

Nixon says ITC probes retailers in patent infringement case

Bloomberg Law | September 30, 2020

This article covers the U.S. International Trade Commission’s institution of a second investigation into leading retailers and suppliers of filament LED lighting products, based on a complaint NP filed on behalf of the Regents of the University of California (UC). Los Angeles Intellectual Property partners Seth Levy and Shawn Hansen are leading the NP team in UC’s LED patent enforcement campaign.

Investors Back Universities’ Fight for Share of Research Profits

Times Higher Education | September 19, 2020

This article discusses how the LED lighting patent enforcement campaign on behalf of the Regents of the University of California (UC) could chart a path for other universities to protect their innovations, as well as the role of litigation funding in the campaign. The article quotes Los Angeles Intellectual Property partner Seth Levy.

COVID-19 and Alumni Relations: Staying Connected While Social Distancing

National Association for Law Placement | May 19, 2020

Boston-based senior business development manager Paul Lazdowski, who also co-chairs the NALP Legal Employers Alumni Relations/Programs Section, co-wrote this article on how law firms can rethink the ways in which they stay connected and engaged with alumni amid the global pandemic.

Loughlin says "Varsity Blues" charges not tied to Mass.

Law360 | April 01, 2020

This article on the latest developments in the college admissions scandal highlights jurisdictional arguments from a brief written by Boston Government Investigations and White Collar Defense partner Brian Kelly and associates Josh Sharp and Lauren Maynard. The NP attorneys are co-counsel to defendant Gamal Abdelaziz.

Hold off or proceed?

Inside Higher Ed | March 26, 2020

Providence Complex Commercial Disputes partner Steven Richard says the lack of a fixed time frame for the completion of Title IX investigations has created uncertainty for colleges and universities during this public health crisis.

Loughlin, "Varsity" Blues-parents want "sham" case tossed

Law360 | March 25, 2020

This story on the latest developments in the college admissions matter mentions Government Investigations and White Collar Defense partner Brian Kelly and associates Josh Sharp and Lauren Maynard for their representation of Gamal Abdelaziz.

The China Spy Scandal that Entangled Harvard Could Hit Yale and MIT Next

Newsweek | February 29, 2020

Boston Government Investigations and White Collar Defense partner Brian Kelly provides third-party commentary in this article about investigations into scientists and researchers at universities across the country for alleged theft of intellectual property and U.S. secrets as part of a long-term Chinese campaign.

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