Educational institutions face a complex and unique combination of business and legal challenges. We counsel education clients of every size and type—as well as their lenders and creditors—on their diverse needs, from compliance matters, labor relations, and real estate development to financing issues and the protection and commercialization of intellectual property.


The expansion of government regulations, an increased focus on accessibility and civil rights, and advances in technology have made compliance far more challenging. Advance planning before disputes arise can ensure that responses align with an institution's mission and values.

Our clients include K-12 schools (public, private, and charter), colleges and universities, for-profit schools, and online education companies nationwide. And because the team includes attorneys across a range of practice areas working together, we are uniquely positioned to address the varied and increasingly complex needs of educational institutions.

Full Text
Print

Ballard Spahr is fully versed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other laws designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. We help education clients assess their responsibilities, design compliance programs, and defend against discrimination and other claims based on physical, mental, and digital accessibility. We help clients respond to requests for accommodation or modifications by students or employees, and represent clients in inquiries by federal, state, and local government agencies.

Click here for more information on the firm's Accessibility Initiative.

Our nationally recognized student lending attorneys represent clients in higher education and the student loan industry, including private schools, colleges, universities, sponsors, lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, and collection agencies. We also have assisted secondary market participants and other entities involved in federal and state guaranteed student loan programs, income share agreements, private and supplemental student loan programs, and related tuition payment plans and school debit card plans.

Our private student loan experience encompasses programs targeting a variety of education sectors, including K-12, colleges and universities, graduate and professional schools, coding boot camps, and Title IV career schools, as well as the private consolidation loan and student loan refinance market. We advise clients involved in these programs on compliance with all applicable licensing, marketing, origination, and collections laws and state and federal regulations.

Our litigators have defended student lenders and servicers from all manner of class actions and individual claims. Our experience includes cases involving claims of fraudulent and deceptive marketing practices, breach of contract, violations of student loan servicing laws, unfair collection practices, and improper reporting to credit bureaus. We also have played a prominent role in defending the enforceability of arbitration clauses in consumer financial services agreements, both generally and in cases involving private student loan and installment loan documents.

We have represented lenders and servicers of all sizes in connection with examinations, investigations, and enforcement actions brought by federal and state regulatory agencies operating in this space, including the CFPB, the Department of Education, prudential banking regulators, and attorneys general and banking departments in California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin. We have persuaded regulatory agencies to drop claims, convinced them to adopt more favorable terms in consent orders, and successfully negotiated significant dollar reductions in settlement demands.

Click here for more information on the firm's Consumer Financial Services practice.

With one of the country's leading employee benefits and compensation practices, we counsel numerous education clients on complex issues, including retirement, health and welfare, and compensation arrangements. We are at the forefront of advising college and university investment committees of their ERISA fiduciary duties in selecting and monitoring 403(b) plan investments and keeping in-house counsel abreast of developments in case law in light of the recent storm of litigation against colleges and universities. We also counsel in-house human resources and legal personnel on benefit plans (including 403(b)), taxation, vendor contracts, and regulatory compliance. Our attorneys stay up-to-date on regulatory and legislative developments and keep clients well-informed so they can plan and respond effectively.

Click here for more information on the firm's Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice.

Ballard Spahr has one of the nation’s foremost Media and Entertainment Law practices. Our First Amendment attorneys help education clients respond to civil and criminal actions, including grand jury subpoenas, seeking information related to newsgathering, anonymous sources, and anonymous online speech. We advise on the potential liability of all forms of speech—including by students and employees—and help to strike a balance between the free-speech rights of guest speakers and the need to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all members of a campus community. We have extensive experience drafting policies and procedures and help clients navigate competing obligations under anti-discrimination and harassment laws and constitutional protections.

Click here for more information on the firm's Media and Entertainment Law practice.

We have significant experience designing, writing, and implementing governance and compliance programs for nonprofit and for-profit educational institutions. We use our vast experience with governance issues to provide insight to boards and management teams and make sure that our clients comply with evolving regulations, implement best management practices, and stay aware of industry trends and alternate strategies to meet their goals.

We counsel public entities on compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Act, including the development of disclosure controls and procedures, and the establishment and administration of whistleblower policies and hotlines as well as codes of conduct.

Ballard Spahr looks at government relations a little differently than the typical law firm. We believe that the most effective way for businesses – including educational institutions – to interact with government is to be proactive, not reactive. Keeping our clients' interests paramount, we anticipate and analyze decision-makers' strategies and actions, then develop an approach that harmonizes government objectives and our clients' business aims.
We offer a range of services to clients in state capitals across the nation. We monitor and provide data on the activities of government and give direct assistance in legislative efforts, ensuring that our clients' voices are heard by policy makers and regulators. In economic development and government contracting matters, we help clients identify and pursue opportunities that fit their business needs.

Click here for more information on the firm's Government Relations, Regulatory Affairs and Contracting practice.

Our health care attorneys serve as general and special counsel to academic medical centers, physician practices, insurance companies, and other health care organizations. We assist educational institutions in forming affiliations, joint ventures, and reorganizations, and advise them on mergers and acquisitions of hospitals, health care systems, and physician practices. Our team advises on corporate relationships with health care providers and research organizations. We also provide guidance on regulatory compliance with HIPAA, Medicare, Medicaid, and data security requirements.

Click here for more information about the firm's Health Care practice.

We provide sophisticated intellectual property services to universities and research institutions and have longstanding relationships with technology transfer offices in major universities throughout the country. The attorneys on our IP teams have spent their careers representing universities and research institutions before the United States Patent and Trademark Office and international patent and trademark offices.

We evaluate and analyze patentability as well as commercial potential. Our attorneys are not in the business of filing for the sake of filing. We pride ourselves on integrating into our clients’ teams and helping make sound business decisions. We also have represented public universities in a number of patent litigation matters.

We assist clients in all matters related to the identification, documentation, protection, enforcement, and management of patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights, software, trade dress, and other valuable intellectual property assets. We structure, negotiate, and document a wide variety of arrangements related to the acquisition, development, protection, and distribution of intellectual property, both domestically and internationally.

Our work includes complex outsourcing and commercial agreements; consultation on privacy, data security issues, and breach response; licensing, product development, supply, and distribution arrangements; shareholder agreements; employment agreements; and consulting agreements.

Our IP attorneys work with higher education clients and other education-related entities to promote and protect the commercialization of ideas and inventions. We represent university technology transfer offices and research institutions in drafting licensing agreements with startup, emerging, and large public companies; advising on patent procurement; protecting trademark and copyright portfolios; branding; naming rights; and all manner of IP litigation.

Through Ballard Spahr's BEGIN (Ballard's Emerging Growth Innovation Network) program, we work with university technology transfer offices to promote investment in technology and life sciences companies and foster their growth and development. We also help higher education clients connect with fledgling companies that can commercialize their technology.

Click here for more information on the firm's Intellectual Property Department.

We represent education industry clients in all manner of investigations, including those involving faculty, students, and administration. We also address the reputational risks inherent in so many of these investigations. Our services include:

  • Strategic crisis management and messaging
  • Enterprise risk management and corporate governance counseling
  • Compliance and enforcement issues involving regulators, including the U.S. Department of Education, FDIC, OCC, and OTS
  • Matters related to foreign students, anti-money laundering, terrorism, and sanctioned countries
  • Minimizing competitive harm from false statements
  • Media relations

Schools are responsible for preventing and addressing harassment in educational programs and activities, from bullying and online harassment to sexual violence. In addition, the Clery Act requires schools that receive federal funding to maintain and disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. We advise on the development of policies and procedures that support core values, ensure a coordinated response, and mitigate risk. We help clients improve decision making, streamline procedures, and comply with state and federal mandates. We also provide Title IX compliance reviews and employee training.

If an allegation of sexual misconduct arises, we guide clients through the process, from claim review and investigation through advice on remedies, disciplinary measures, and due process. We also assist with campus climate checks and surveys to assess the effectiveness of the institution's efforts and adjust as needed.

Our attorneys understand the sensitive and complex employment issues that can arise in educational settings and how even day-to-day employment issues can affect the tenor of campus life—and we have the experience to achieve resolutions that align with the objectives of our clients. We have more than 30 years of experience in faculty negotiations and often have served as chief negotiator for educational entities. We know how to forge positive relationships with organized labor while aggressively advocating the legal positions of our clients.

We have represented education clients before the National Labor Relations Board and state labor agencies, and have successfully counseled schools during strikes and organizing activities. We help clients respond to employment-related claims, including discrimination, harassment, Family and Medical Leave Act, ADA, wage and hour, noncompetition, confidentiality, First Amendment, and wrongful termination. We recognize the sensitivity of faculty tenure issues and design solutions that serve the best interests of the educational institution.

Click here for more information on the firm's Labor and Employment practice.

We assist schools, colleges, and universities in the spectrum of disputes and litigation matters, including health care and environmental cases. We counsel in matters of premises liability, fraternities and sororities, and labor and employment. We also have represented clients in criminal proceedings, including responding to investigations and criminal charges. Our white collar litigators are accomplished, seasoned professionals with significant experience in high-stakes matters.

Click here for more information about the firm's Litigation Department.
By virtue of their mission and structure, many of our educational clients’ digital assets and technology users are targeted for compromise and exploitation by a wide range of external and internal cyber threats. Simply engaging in daily campus life can subject students and employees to risks involving digital privacy, safety, and security. For those charged with managing and safeguarding an institution’s environment, it seems as though every matter now has a significant technology component. Educational institutions must be prepared to react quickly and nimbly to a broad and intimidating range of technology-facilitated issues that may arise at any moment.

We help educational clients navigate the many laws, regulations, and industry practices designed to safeguard student and employee records, as well as financial, health, and other confidential information. We help our clients develop effective policies and execute plans that support digital privacy and safety on campus. We advise on all aspects of information risk management programs, vendor assessment and management, information security disclosures, cyber-incident response planning, employee training and community awareness, privacy laws and practices, and the management of marketing preferences. We serve as both investigators and advocates with deep experience in cyber-related internal and governmental investigations, regulatory compliance and enforcement matters, cyber-related crisis management, and civil and criminal litigation.

Click here for more information on the firm's Privacy and Data Security practice.

A significant segment of our nationally recognized Public Finance Department is focused on tax-exempt and taxable bond financings, bank lending, and derivative transactions for educational organizations. We have served as bond counsel, underwriter's counsel, borrower's counsel, or credit enhancer counsel on billions of dollars in educational bond issues. These financings have supported the development of campus facilities, research buildings, student housing (both university- and privately owned), auxiliary facilities, athletic facilities, and stadiums throughout the country. We participate in financings for higher-educational institutions, vocational/technical schools, school districts, charter schools, and other private and parochial schools, as well as student loan issuers.

We provide guidance on tax issues related to tax-exempt financing, including private business use issues, and we assist our clients with post-issuance tax compliance and in tax audit matters. We also assist in the foundation and interpretation of procedures for post-issuance continuing disclosure compliance and, when necessary, in the remediation of post-issuance tax and disclosure issues.

We regularly advise clients on issues related to municipal securities regulation, compliance, and enforcement, including primary offerings, secondary market disclosure filings, disclosure training for officers and staff, and avoidance of selective disclosure to individual market participants.

Click here for more information on the firm's work on public finance in education settings.

Our nationally recognized Real Estate Department has represented education clients on a wide range of development matters, including site acquisition, land use, zoning, planning, development, construction, financing, leasing, and tax exemption. Several Ballard Spahr attorneys are LEED Accredited Professionals as documented by the U.S. Green Building Council. As such, we are well-positioned to help develop and implement programs to promote sustainability, green building, and cost-effective projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have successfully represented academic institutions in construction-related mediation, arbitration, and litigation proceedings.

Click here for more information on the firm's Real Estate Department.

Ballard Spahr's environmental lawyers maintain continuous working relationships with school and university counsel and facilities personnel, providing responsive and imaginative support in this complex regulatory area. Our services have involved the acquisition and development of environmentally impaired properties, compliance counseling and enforcement, and regulatory litigation, including:

  • Design and implementation of environmental compliance audits
  • Representation of universities in air, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste, and storage tank regulatory matters
  • Advice, including litigation, on the acquisition and development of contaminated real property and riparian rights
  • Advice on Superfund litigation concerning the disposal of hazardous substances
  • Representation in EPA, state, and local environmental enforcement actions, including issues related to waste disposal
  • Representation of research universities and health care units in U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation investigations
  • General environmental compliance advice and support
  • Acquisition of federal, state, and local environmental land use permits and approvals, including related litigation to permit the development of regional college campuses and other development projects

Click here for more information about the firm's Environment and Natural Resources practice.

We advise college athletic departments on compliance with Title IX and NCAA eligibility. We provide guidance on proportionality, participation opportunities, accommodation for underrepresented students, the use of surveys to comply with Title IX, equity in financial assistance to student-athletes, navigating investigations, and negotiating settlements. Should issues of noncompliance arise in an institution’s athletics programs, we have deep experience in helping clients deliver prompt, effective responses that address obligations under Title IX.

We have represented universities and student-athletes in NCAA investigations, performed internal compliance investigations, and guided universities through the NCAA Clearinghouse. We evaluate programs to ensure compliance with the three-part test, students’ interests and abilities, athletic benefits and opportunities, and athletic financial assistance. We also have experience conducting on-site reviews of gender equity issues.

Ballard Spahr has been nationally recognized for our handling of issues involving the evaluation of gender equity in athletics and the national governing bodies tasked with ensuring the equitable growth of sports for girls and women. Our work has focused on participation opportunities, coaching and support resources, equipment and facilities, per diem, player compensation, and labor organizing among student athletes.

We represent education institutions in a wide range of tax and governance issues, including institutional management, legal compliance, donor programs, investment management, and operating structures. The tax attorneys on our team have significant experience with governance structures and the related documents, policies, and procedures that support the most efficient operation of educational organizations. Our experience includes formation documents, management documents and policies, compensation policies and procedures, document retention policies, conflict of interest policies, whistleblower policies, codes of conduct, public disclosure rules, and employee benefits policies, including pension plans.

Gifts and Endowments

We regularly counsel education clients on policies and procedures related to scholarships, gifts, and endowments. We assist with the development and monitoring of policies for gift acceptance, including the creation and management of scholarship programs, donor advised fund programs, and policies for endowment management and distribution. We provide guidance on planned and structured giving to take advantage of tax laws and enhance gifts to educational institutions. We also advise clients on gift intentions and parameters for redirecting gifts, and we assist in the pursuit of significant pledges that are not fulfilled by donors.

Investments

We analyze the legal issues and risks of potential investment in private funds and alternative investment vehicles. We advise investment committees on how to set up and define the committee's scope of responsibility and provide counsel on fiduciary issues. Our attorneys review offering memoranda and fund organizational agreements, subscription agreements, and related investment documents. We also negotiate side-letter agreements, identify any deviations from market practices, and advise on the purchase and sale of proprietary, post-secondary institutions.

Click here for more information on the firm's Investment Management practice.

We assist educational institutions in a wide range of activities that allow them to take advantage of new opportunities and minimize risks involving climate change and clean-energy issues. Our attorneys have worked on a broad range of renewable-energy projects involving solar, hydroelectric, wind, landfill gas, agricultural biomass, coal or wood waste, and geothermal electric generation, as well as ethanol and biodiesel facilities. In the litigation area, we have been involved in national climate change cases. We advise on the development of climate policies for universities and other educational institutions. With our real estate practice, we help developers, purchasers, and tenants with green design, building development, and occupancy matters. Our finance lawyers advise education clients and other market participants on effective climate change disclosure in public debt offerings.

Click here for more information about the firm's Climate Change and Alternative Energy practice.
Our attorneys provide innovative, cost-effective results to clients, making us a powerful ally in the development, acquisition, and financing of energy assets and in the achievement of regulatory, policy, and legislative goals. We work with education-related entities on performance-driven energy solutions and the underlying financial and infrastructure development options available to those institutions. We also help clients navigate and manage the process while exploring alternative financing solutions addressing the deferred maintenance crisis, the value of supply and demand-side energy options, and the challenges of a budget neutral approach to achieve campus sustainability goals.

To learn more, click here.