We Understand Your Business

Educational institutions face increasingly complex demographic, financial, technological and regulatory challenges, including numerous COVID-19 issues. Given the fast pace at which these developments occur – and the barrage of legal demands they create – it is crucial for educational organizations to respond effectively on a variety of fronts. For instance:

  • Educational institutions face daily financial pressures, from tightening and tuition-dependent operating budgets to rising property and labor costs, and from fluctuating enrollments and graduation rates to persistent development issues. Consequently, they need responsive and knowledgeable legal counsel when making operational decisions that will affect legal compliance and risk management efforts.
  • Federal and state agencies have intensified their scrutiny of higher education and show no signs of slowing down. Whether facing an attorney general investigation of financial practices, a federal whistleblower lawsuit under the False Claims Act or an Office of Civil Rights action on a sexual assault complaint under Title IX, colleges and universities must be prepared for government investigations and enforcement actions.
  • Union organizing efforts at colleges and universities are becoming more prevalent. Adjunct organizing is driven by concerns over compensation, benefits, workloads and job security. As these unionization efforts increase, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to scrutinize employer policies and create new laws that challenge traditional views of labor relations.
  • Educational institutions are experiencing a new wave of reorganizations that raise challenging legal issues, including adjunct faculty organizing, tenure alternatives, mergers and consolidations, outsourcing of back office services, and affiliation and consortium arrangements. These changes may also include athletic conference realignment. Adapting to these trends, and anticipating and being responsive to the legal issues they present, can enable these institutions to thrive amid significant structural shifts.
  • In the wake of school shooting tragedies and child abuse scandals campus safety will remain one of the top legal challenges for educators for the foreseeable future. The federal Campus SaVE Act illustrates continuous legislative focus on security awareness, prevention and reporting. Educators will have to address a growing number of compliance issues in this area, as well as corresponding litigation from affected persons and interest groups.
  • Another constant challenge is obtaining and maintaining federal financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Failure to comply with complicated and changing federal regulations can lead to significant monetary penalties, strict limits to funding and even criminal liability.
  • Issues with intercollegiate athletics can have broad ramifications for an institution, ranging from Title IX concerns and NCAA compliance issues to private litigation and employment matters. These issues must be addressed in the context of an institution’s simultaneous concerns for financial and reputational stability.

Is your educational institution positioned to succeed?

We Can Help

Holland & Knight was one of the first U.S. law firms to establish a legal team devoted to serving educational institutions, and we now have one of the largest teams of education lawyers in the country. With more than two decades of experience counseling clients across the industry – including colleges, universities, independent schools, school districts, charter schools, private elementary schools, vocational and for-profit institutions, fraternities and sororities, accrediting agencies, museums and foundations – we have a deep familiarity with the highly specific issues faced by our clients. We often serve as an outside general counsel for institutions without in-house legal departments. As part of a global law firm, we are also able to provide experienced counsel in matters that extend beyond traditional education law.

  • Compliance Services: We work closely with clients to develop comprehensive legal compliance programs that address their institution’s particular needs. This includes providing counsel on legal auditing, student financial aid operations, lending programs, recruiter compensation plans and many other compliance matters. We also advise on accreditation, registration, state and federal rulemaking and lobbying for institution-specific appropriations. In addition, our lawyers defend education clients in state and federal investigations.
  • Construction: Most educational organizations and institutions require legal assistance with physical plant expansion and renovation projects. We tailor our counseling on construction matters to meet the financial, administrative and regulatory challenges each client encounters in this area.
  • Data Privacy and Security: It is critical for educational institutions to manage data privacy and security matters effectively and comply with the growing number of best practices and regulator guidance. We provide highly experienced technical and legal counsel on an array of issues, from mobile device management to identifying gaps in privacy policies. We assist with data and security breaches, and with the development of programs to prevent breaches, as well as respond to federal and state regulator inquiries and investigations.
  • Intellectual Property: Through licensing, registration and enforcement of copyrights, patents and trademarks, and technology transfers, we help protect intellectual property resources as well as defend against infringement lawsuits. We also assist providers of distance education with guidance on federal telecommunications policy.
  • International: Our attorneys understand that educational institutions face increasingly complex demographic, financial, technological and regulatory challenges. Given the fast pace at which these developments occur, it is crucial for educational organizations to respond effectively on a variety of fronts throughout the world. With more than two decades of experience counseling clients across the industry, we have a deep familiarity with the highly specific issues faced by our clients.  As part of a global law firm, we are able to provide experienced counsel in matters that extend beyond traditional education law.
  • Labor, Employment and Benefits: Many educational institutions find that a significant percentage of the legal challenges they face involve employment-related issues. Accordingly, our team offers a wide range of legal services in this area. We help develop and draft faculty and staff policies. We advise on training, hiring, layoffs and terminations. We counsel on internal grievance procedures, tenure, promotions, leaves of absence, and visa and immigration issues. We also litigate matters involving federal, state and local employment laws, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation and defamation.
  • Legal Ethics: In-house counsel at educational institutions have the challenging job of serving the needs of multiple constituents with different roles and sometimes different interests. We advise educational institutions as well as other governmental and private legal departments on a wide array of issues arising from conflicts, privileges and ethics.
  • Litigation and Dispute Resolution: Disputes are an unavoidable reality for many educational institutions, and our team adopts a variety of methods to assist our clients. We work with them to determine when immediate, out-of-court dispute resolutions are desirable. Where the claims and strategy call for it, we aggressively defend our clients before government agencies and in court.
  • Nonprofit and Tax-Exempt Organizations and Religious Institutions: We help educational institutions or organizations that are structured as nonprofit entities to navigate the evolving rules and regulations that govern tax-exempt organizations safely and efficiently. This includes representing religious institutions with educational components, which can face a distinct array of legal issues.
  • Real Estate: We regularly assist with the numerous legal challenges that accompany the acquisition, development, structuring, leasing, financing and disposition of properties that are used in connection with the operation of schools, colleges and universities.
  • White Collar Defense and Investigations: We combine knowledgeable attorneys who have spent their careers in government enforcement and compliance with our extensive experience representing institutions of higher education. The result is legal representation that is efficient, effective and tailor-made for colleges and universities. We work closely with clients to help avoid civil and criminal liability related to government enforcement and compliance issues that arise from scrutiny from state and federal agencies.

Guidance You Can Trust

The combination of our thorough knowledge, extensive experience and sincere commitment to provide responsive service is why educational institutions rely on our Education Team to handle their legal needs.

One reason we understand the varied issues faced by educational institutions is that we actively recruit attorneys with education and education law experience. The Holland & Knight team includes lawyers who have held high-ranking positions in the U.S. Department of Education and state education agencies, and have served as counsel to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. We also write extensively on education law. For example, we literally wrote the book on "Campus Safety and Security" for the College and University Law Manual published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (2012 ed.) and the Corporate Compliance Answer Book 2014, published by the Practising Law Institute. We also publish electronic "Education Alerts" on breaking education law issues.

Members of our team have been recognized among the top legal professionals in the country by prominent publications and organizations:

  • Several of our attorneys are ranked as leading lawyers in education law, including a top-tier ranking for Boston and Massachusetts education law by the Best Lawyers "Best Law Firms" guide and the Best Lawyers in Americaguide.
  • The Best Lawyers in America guide has recognized members of our team in areas that are relevant to our wide-ranging education practice: Employment Law, Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law, Commercial Litigation and Construction Law. In addition, our team includes lawyers who have earned top rankings in the Chambers USA – America's Leading Business Lawyers guide in Labor & Employment, and in Chambers USA: Massachusetts in Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation.

Case Studies


News and Headlines