Litigation > Universities and Colleges

Universities are under increasing scrutiny and face myriad challenges on the state, national and even global level. These challenges extend beyond campus borders, ranging from high-stakes internal investigations and litigation to concerns related to endowments, Title IX obligations, athletics, cybersecurity and grant procurement, among others. Backed by the substantial resources of a full-service firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP has an interdisciplinary practice that addresses the critical issues faced by universities and colleges.

Internal Investigations and Crisis Management

Akin Gump has the proven capabilities to advise academic institutions that face increasingly complex regulations and compliance requirements. Our lawyers have extensive experience representing colleges and universities in internal investigations. The lawyers in our global investigations and compliance and crisis management practices have, for example, conducted internal inquiries regarding alleged financial irregularities by university employees, and into allegations surrounding impropriety of a faculty member. Our lawyers have also led a task force on several Title IX issues, including a hazing scandal on an athletic team, and have advised a west coast university in a Department of Labor investigation stemming from claims filed by various female and minority professors alleging denial of tenure based on race and gender.

Among Akin Gump’s other relevant experience, we have advised a prominent college in connection with an internal investigation of its operations and accounting functions in response to perceived weaknesses and potential fraud and have also conducted a comprehensive personnel file review and subsequent legal liability risk assessment on behalf of a leadership body of a university.

A number of Akin Gump lawyers have experience serving on, or chairing, University and College Boards of Trustees, lending an invaluable perspective of how to manage both internal and external stakeholders when an issue arises. We also bring to bear a sophisticated and in-depth understanding of broader, but equally critical, regulatory concerns related to government oversight of corporate relationships with universities. For instance, we have advised on sanctions-related disclosure obligations arising out of affiliations with universities and counseled on Anti-Kickback Act issues involving contracts with a university health care system.

Title IX Investigations and Compliance

Unique to educational institutions is the burgeoning volume of Title IX complaints and investigations. Drawing from our experience with crisis management, internal investigations, litigation and federal regulatory agencies, our lawyers work strategically with educational institutions to proactively develop campus policies that are Title IX compliant while always remaining cognizant of campus ethos and protecting school reputations. Our team, which includes three certified Title IX investigators, has conducted investigations for universities on allegations of misconduct and revised Title IX policies and procedures at educational institutions. We have also represented universities and individuals in Title IX-related disciplinary and legal proceedings.

When our higher education clients are confronted by a Title IX-related report or allegation, we help direct the institution’s response, including communications with the parties involved, insurance carriers, civil authorities as required by law, and when appropriate, the public and the media regarding the allegations. Akin Gump will conduct a comprehensive investigation and work with the institution to develop an appropriate response. With escalating scrutiny facing all organizations, our clients look to us to anticipate, mitigate and, if necessary, manage any issues that may become problematic. As organizations fully enter the digital age and social media, and instantaneous communication brings about more transparency, it also becomes more imperative to manage controversial issues before they enter the public domain.

With escalating scrutiny facing all organizations, our clients look to us to anticipate, mitigate and, if necessary, manage any issues that may become problematic. As organizations fully enter the digital age and social media, and instantaneous communication brings about more transparency, it also becomes more imperative to manage controversial issues before they enter the public domain.

Endowment/Funds Litigation

Given that endowments and funds are a university’s largest financial asset and a perpetual resource for institutional growth, research and learning, how these funds are structured and protected is paramount to ensuring the financial security of educational institutions. Backed by the substantial resources of a full-service firm, Akin Gump has an interdisciplinary practice that addresses the critical issues faced by universities and colleges and their endowments. We advise university endowments in connection with their investment activities, negotiation of terms and compliance with tax, ERISA and regulatory issues.

For more than 20 years, Akin Gump has focused on serving the legal needs of fund clients, including university endowments, in fund formation and structure, tax, corporate and securities, financial restructuring and litigation. As counsel to many of the top hedge and private equity funds in the world, Akin Gump’s global investment management team has helped clients raise, invest and realize billions of dollars. Our practice encompasses all aspects of fund formation and ongoing operations, from fund structuring, fund management and investor relations to portfolio company representation. Our representation of a broad range of asset managers and institutional investors gives us proprietary insight on emerging trends in the private equity and hedge fund markets. In supporting our endowment clients, our team lends its experience assisting managers in the formation, structuring and negotiation of over 2,000 private equity and hedge funds, across a wide variety of strategies, sectors and geographies.

Our practice also enjoys in-house support from a cutting-edge tax practice dedicated to the representation of onshore and offshore fund clients, as well as from a well-known financial restructuring practice that regularly represents distressed funds and other bondholders in major bankruptcy cases across the country.

In addition to supporting university endowments in a transactional capacity, our litigators, working hand in hand with the firm’s renowned investment funds practice, provide counsel and representation in disputes and litigation. We have amassed a nationwide pool of experienced litigators dedicated to the varied needs of fund clients, including the specific needs of university endowments. Our team includes a highly regarded white collar and regulatory enforcement practice led by former federal prosecutors who have represented clients before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), offices of various state attorneys general, the DOJ, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and other government agencies. Click here to learn about our representative experience.

Sports Law

Athletics programs have become the public face of many universities. They are often the most recognizable demonstration of a college’s brand, a tremendous source of revenue and expenditures, a successful recruiting tool and a public-relations engine. At the same time, colleges must adhere to complex NCAA rules and regulations, balance athletics programs with academics, and manage millions of dollars in revenue from college sports. It is therefore no surprise that, college sports have become the source of significant legal controversies, including NCAA compliance violations, allegations of abuse, misappropriation of booster donations and Title IX complaints. Akin Gump provides a full range of legal services, including counseling, reporting, advisory and litigation-related services, to our clients in the sports industry. In addition to assisting universities navigate compliance with a wide range of NCAA rules, we also help our clients understand and operate within the framework of requirements imposed by federal, state and regional regulators. Akin Gump conducts internal investigations, develops compliance programs, and provides training to administrators and student athletes on a variety of topics such as effective anti-harassment and sexual assault policies under Title IX.

Akin Gump offers universities substantial experience in the sports industry, having advised various professional sports teams, leagues and organizations in critical legal matters. One of our team members has served as vice president of Minor League Baseball (MiLB) since 1992 and has been responsible for representing the organization during congressional consideration of baseball’s antitrust exemption and other legislative proposals impacting MiLB. Akin Gump has also represented a major professional sports team in a congressional investigation into steroid policies, as well as a prominent major league baseball team in connection with investigations into stadium financing.

As part of a long-standing institutional relationship with the management council of a professional sports league and its member clubs, we have provided counsel in a wide range of arbitrations and proceedings resulting from various player grievances, disputes with the players’ union, workers’ compensation matters, challenges to enforcement of player policies and provisions of collective bargaining agreements (CBA), and other contractual contests. Often as the lead outside legal advisor, our team has achieved victories on their behalf in several highly publicized cases involving player disciplinary challenges filed by prominent players.

Akin Gump is also regularly retained as outside counsel in sensitive labor, wage and hour, and employment discrimination matters by other clients in the sports and entertainment industry, including sports networks and venue operators. To learn more about our experience, click here.

Grants and Procurement Compliance

As a condition of receiving federal funds, educational institutions must be mindful of their compliance obligations with numerous laws and regulations. Akin Gump lawyers assist clients with securing federal funds as well as with developing compliance programs, ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations, responding to audits and defending against enforcement actions.

Our lawyers and advisors are experienced with assisting educational institutions identify federal funding opportunities and advocate for grant funding. We understand the importance of demonstrating unique capabilities, building alliances between universities, and developing public private partnerships and opportunities for job training and creation, technology transfer and economic development in capturing federal grants and contracts. We work closely with federal departments and agencies and members of Congress to highlight the value of our clients’ research initiatives and seek maximum funding levels.

We also are experienced with the federal laws, regulations and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars applicable to educational institutions that receive federal aid and grants. Our lawyers understand the compliance obligations of applicable laws and regulations and areas of vulnerability for educational institutions. As a result, we are able to assist universities with developing compliance programs and frequently answer questions that can forestall violations of laws and regulations. Because penalties for violating laws and regulations can include civil or criminal penalties or exclusion from federal programs, it is important for universities to implement strong compliance programs. From antidiscrimination to lobbying restrictions to allowability of costs, the list of legal issues is extensive, making it critical to work with lawyers, like ours, who are experienced across the spectrum. Backed by our deep bench of government procurement lawyers, litigators and policy advisors, we provide comprehensive counsel to educational institutions with respect to grants and procurement.

Click here to learn about our representative experience.

Construction and Sustainability

Given the importance of sustainable building and construction, we also advise clients on measures for energy savings and green building through processes like the design, build and maintenance of dorms and academic buildings. In the same vein, we also assess and manage risks and opportunities surrounding sustainability considerations during the drafting and negotiating of construction contracts, including construction of dorms and medical and athletic facilities.

Our sample experience can be viewed here.

Cybersecurity, Privacy and Data Protection

No public or private university in today’s digital economy is immune to cyber threats. Holding rich data in numerous protected categories, such as personal and health information of current and former students and employees, as well as proprietary research and financial data, education is one of the most vulnerable industries, comprising nearly 10 percent of all data breaches in the past year, according to Symantec. Although not subject to the same multitude of media coverage, five universities had larger data breaches than one of the most notorious corporate hacks in 2014. The privacy of personally identifiable information is an increasingly sensitive and important issue for all organizations as the labyrinth of state, federal and international privacy, data protection and security laws with which organizations must contend grows ever more complex. Cyber threats to sensitive data are immediate and real, since massive data breaches are making headlines with alarming frequency. The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research reported that the education sector, at 73 percent, had the highest percentage of reported breaches with known records from 2005-2014. Higher education institutions have a higher mandate for transparency, requiring the assistance from legal and technical counsel to provide the necessary cybersecurity support.

Akin Gump’s cybersecurity, privacy and data protection practice works with universities to develop and test incident response plans; advise on cybersecurity related policies and procedures; advise on risk management and compliance issues relating to current security standards across regulators; assist with data breach investigations and responses; handle regulatory investigations; and litigate privacy and data security matters in U.S. federal and state courts, at both the trial and appellate levels. We also advise on third-party vendor agreements to address privacy and data security risks, and provide guidance on related vendor diligence efforts.

Click here to learn about our representative matters.