Educational institutions operate in an increasingly complex legal environment in which issues related to compliance, litigation and operational management can derail their missions. They face regulatory burdens and financial pressures, and can encounter legal concerns that touch on almost every area of the law. To address these challenges, educational institutions need multi-disciplinary representation from attorneys who understand their unique legal needs, mission and culture.


Stoel Rives attorneys have provided comprehensive representation to public and private educational institutions for several decades. We have more than a dozen lawyers with specialized education-related practices who understand our clients’ missions and provide strong advocacy and proactive legal advice. We identify and resolve potential liability and avoid litigation through sound policy development, compliance audits and training programs.

Our Clients

  • Colleges
  • Universities
  • Medical schools
  • Academic research institutions
  • Affiliated foundations
  • Community colleges
  • Charter schools
  • Private and public elementary and high schools
  • Religious-based institutions
  • School districts
  • Vocational schools
  • Research institutes
  • Graduate schools
  • Proprietary schools
  • Library districts

Our Services

We provide significant representation to educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West and beyond. We offer tailored solutions and provide the following services to the education community:

  • Student affairs
  • Governance
  • Fund development and advancement and capital campaigns
  • Labor and employment
  • Risk management, litigation and government investigations and compliance actions
  • Privacy and data security
  • Real estate, land use, construction design and management, and facilities
  • Technology transfer, intellectual property, trademarks and patents
  • Tax
  • Finance options and arrangements
  • Program and school closures and wind-downs
  • Employee benefits, recruiting, retention and compensation
  • Commercial ventures and enterprise management
  • Title IX compliance and exemptions
  • Campus safety and Clery Act compliance
  • Federal student aid and Title IV
  • Campus-based health and counseling centers
  • Environmental, renewable energy and community solar
  • Public-private partnerships (P3)
  • Athletics
  • Religious-based directives and exemptions
  • Scholarships
  • Educational institution mergers, acquisitions and affiliations

Our Commitment to Education

Our attorneys stay abreast of trends that can have an impact on legal representation and are members of the following associations:

  • National Association of College and University Attorneys
  • Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

We have experience addressing legal needs across numerous areas of law. Our education-specific experience includes the following:

Student Affairs

We help our clients handle sensitive and distinctive compliance and litigation matters related to their student bodies.

  • Admissions and enrollment issues
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)/Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): student records and privacy
  • Section 504 and ADA II/III: student disability support services
  • Sexual misconduct and other anti-harassment and discrimination compliance under a wide range of state and federal civil rights law, including Title IX, VAWA, Campus SaVE Act and Clery Act
  • Title IV and financial aid matters
  • Student government, organizations and publications
  • Policy and practice development for student conduct discipline and judicial boards
  • Policy and practice development for academic progress matters and defense of progress board matters
  • Honor code compliance
  • Student athletics


We provide strategic and collaborative thinking to achieve good governance and effective organizational structures and operations.

  • Create framework that satisfies education and nonprofit laws and accreditation standards, and ensures effective governance
  • Prepare and update bylaws and policies to embody best practices and reflect school’s operations
  • Structure relationships and shared governance with related organizations and affiliates
  • Advise on open meeting laws and public records requests
  • Counsel regarding conflict of interest and ethics matters
  • Provide training to boards of directors and committees regarding effective governance and best practices
  • Advise on operation of educational organizations and impact and structure of new lines of business and partnerships
  • Conduct comprehensive compliance reviews on all aspects of governance matters
  • Structure joint ventures and collaborations to achieve outcomes, avoid ambiguities and ensure good governance

Financial Distress

Reductions in state funding, declining enrollment, the coronavirus pandemic and anticipated lost revenue threaten the fiscal health of educational institutions. Our attorneys advise educational clients through times of financial uncertainty and distress. We assist public and private institutions with a range of sensitive issues including:

  • Financial workouts and restructurings
  • Consolidations, partnerships and reorganizations
  • Alternate funding and government assistance programs
  • Debt and bond issues
  • Program closures
  • School closures
  • Orderly dissolutions
  • Benefit restructurings
  • Reductions in workforce
  • Early retirements and voluntary severance programs
  • Assessment and renegotiation of liability to vendors and suppliers
  • Treatment of distressed real estate assets

Fund Development and Advancement

We counsel schools and their affiliated foundations regarding raising and managing private funds.

  • Assist in creating and maintaining vibrant planned giving programs
  • Draft and review donor gift agreements
  • Assist with drafting and review of complex deferred giving vehicles such as charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts and other split-interest gifts
  • Advise on state charitable solicitation registration and fundraising laws
  • Assist with gift annuity registration and compliance issues
  • Draft and review gift acceptance policies
  • Advise on university naming policies
  • Assist with investment management compliance, including advice on UPMIFA, UPIA and endowment management matters
  • Provide training and support for development officers and fundraisers on compliance issues and gifts of complex assets

Labor and Employment

Many of our labor and employment attorneys focus regularly on all facets of issues unique to educational institutions and their workforces.

  • Labor issues pertaining to faculty and graduate students, including academic collective bargaining, contract negotiation and arbitrations
  • Leadership transitions and faculty matters such as executive contracts, promotion, incentive compensation and tenure reviews and denials
  • General employment issues including advice and counseling, workforce reduction, affirmative action and defense of employment claims such as discrimination, leave, and wage and hour issues

Internal Investigations

Our attorneys have conducted hundreds of workplace investigations over the past 25 years. We are experienced in not only identifying and gathering relevant evidence, but also determining its relative weight and reliability. The report resulting from investigations effectively analyzes the evidence, comes to a finding, and contains the necessary elements of an effective defense.

We have experience conducting internal and independent investigations on a wide range of issues, including:

  • Internal investigations regarding alleged violations of university policies and state and federal laws
  • Harassment and discrimination
  • Whistleblower and retaliation claims
  • Title IX compliance and exclusions
  • Wage and hour issues
  • Theft and embezzlement
  • Complex matters involving high-profile institutions and individuals
  • Investigations involving unions
  • Workplace violence

Risk Management, Litigation, and Government Investigations and Compliance Actions

We help our education clients manage and avoid risks by conducting audits of policies and procedures and proposing actions that will reduce exposure, protect constituents and strengthen our clients’ position. Our lawyers provide counseling services during crisis situations and work closely with risk managers and communications professionals to develop and implement effective strategies for responding to such matters. We also offer a full range of advocacy services and have seasoned trial lawyers with experience representing education clients in all types of disputes in federal or state courts, administrative forums, and alternative dispute resolution.

  • Represent colleges and universities in Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaints
  • Represent education clients in federal or state government investigations and compliance actions, whether government-initiated or in response to whistleblower complaints
  • Defend educational institutions in a wide range of litigation matters, including False Claims Act litigation related to Title IX, contract or commercial disputes, and actions implicating the First Amendment
  • Advise and represent education clients in responding to government inquiries and actions concerning accreditation and education licensure requirements
  • Advise colleges and universities on tort liability contracts, legal immunities and privileges, and other general contract matters

Privacy and Data Security

Educational institutions collect and process large amounts of personal data and are therefore subject to an increasingly complex array of regulatory requirements and restrictions. Our privacy and data security team includes lawyers with technical and regulatory knowledge to assist clients with respect to issues ranging from proper use of data to what to do in the event of a data breach. We also understand and advise on industry-specific laws and regulations that affect educational organizations, including FERPA and HIPAA.

Real Estate, Land Use, Construction Design, and Management and Facilities

We provide complex land use, development and construction services at all stages of project development, including master planning, campus expansions, new campus facilities and renovations to existing structures.

  • Manage land use planning and permitting matters
  • Advise on conflicts with neighbors and neighborhood associations, including development of good neighbor agreements
  • Negotiate and draft design and construction contracts
  • Assist with contracting and insurance coverage issues
  • Manage major capital works projects
  • Develop campus renewable energy facilities
  • Advise on public and private partnerships (P3s)
  • Handle exemptions from competitive bidding processes
  • Handle property acquisitions and leases
  • Advise on environmental issues
  • Resolve disputes arising from such projects

Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Trademarks and Patents

Our Technology and Intellectual Property Group assists clients in acquisition, protection and exploitation of the full range of intellectual property. We regularly assist in filing for and obtaining patents, registering trademarks and copyrights, and protecting unpatented know-how. We also have deep experience in licensing, acquisition and disposition of IP assets. Our work in the education sector includes:

  • Prepare university IP policies
  • Advise on protection of university-sponsored research, patent prosecution and technology transfer
  • Counsel on the Bayh-Dole Act, cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) and other areas of particular interest to educational institutions


Our tax specialists provide expertise on the wide range of local, state and federal tax issues that schools navigate.

  • Advice regarding use of property and obtaining property tax exemptions
  • Advice regarding activities that may generate unrelated business income tax (UBIT)
  • Advice and counsel regarding corporate sponsorships
  • Assistance with crafting joint ventures and affiliations


We provide expertise with debt and equity finance arrangements.

  • Joint ventures
  • Development agreements
  • Conduit and general obligation tax exempt bond financing
  • Credit enhancement
  • Real estate secured financing
  • Fair housing and ADA issues
  • Management agreements
  • Relocation Act issues

Employee Benefits, Recruiting, Retention and Compensation

We counsel education clients about how to optimize employee benefit plans and other compensation arrangements to attract and retain employees, key executives, administrative staff, fundraisers, board members and contractors critical to organizational missions and goals. We help clients navigate and find opportunities in the web of tax, ERISA and/or state laws that impact the delivery of benefits and compensation as well as manage budgetary pressures and minimize compliance risks.

Insights & Presentations
  • Legal Fundamentals for Scholarship Providers (topics: donor participation in the scholarship selection process, donor restrictions on scholarships, record collection and retention, tax treatment of scholarships), Stoel Rives education webinar, Feb. 24, 2021
  • Issue Spotting for Educational Institutions: Gifts & Estates — How to Avoid Scary Stories (topics: practical planned giving techniques, cleanup of problematic gifts, dealing with gift litigation), Stoel Rives education seminar, Portland, Ore., Oct. 24, 2019
  • Issue Spotting for Higher Ed Institutions: Campus Planning & Development (topics: tax-exempt financing, land use and master planning obstacles, real estate leasing and acquisition/sale issues, best practices in design and construction contracting), Stoel Rives education seminar, Portland, Ore., April 4, 2019
  • Issue Spotting for Higher Ed Institutions: It’s Not Scary When You Are Prepared (topics: privacy protections, issues in university governance, university IP policies, student recruitment regulatory developments), Stoel Rives education seminar, Portland, Ore., Oct. 31, 2018
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