Image: from left to right, Genevieve "Eve" Aguilar and Jason McGraw .
The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) manages the wide-ranging and highly complex legal needs of Harvard, from regulatory compliance to litigation to contracts, risk-management, and much more. Genevieve "Eve" Aguilar and Jason McGraw, who both serve in the early-career role of Associate Attorney, discuss their work and what drew them to legal practice in higher education.
What do you do and what is your team's biggest contribution?
Eve Aguilar and Jason McGraw: The OGC is comprised of attorneys, legal professionals, and administrative staff. Our team of in-house professionals is responsible for all the legal work arising from the activities of the Schools and Units at Harvard. The OGC provides legal advice on a broad range of legal issues that the University, its faculty, and administrators confront, such as: advising University officials on regulatory compliance and other legal aspects of their duties; representing the University in litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies; advising on issues involving risk management; preparing, drafting, revising and negotiating contracts between the University and other entities; and representing the University in real estate and other commercial transactions.
Although most in-house attorney positions at Harvard and other universities are filled by those who have extensive legal experience, the Associate Attorney position that we hold is targeted towards lawyers early in their legal career who have five to seven years of experience and an interest in developing their higher education law practice. We have three-year appointments, which allow us to gain more experience and be competitive for future in-house higher education legal jobs at other institutions. Alumni of the program have gone on to work at other universities’ general counsel’s offices and also to serve as general counsels themselves.
What don't people know about you and what your team do?
Eve and Jason: We handle a remarkably broad array of complex and important issues. The OGC supports the entire University, so each day brings new and different work from across the Schools, departments, and units. We assist the University with investigations and litigation, faculty affairs and student affairs, research and regulatory issues, immigration law and policy, commercial contracts, sponsored research agreements, online education initiatives, intellectual property and copyright matters, and labor and employment law – just to name a few.
Eve: Although Jason and I have overlapping practices, I focus on litigation and business disputes, while Jason focuses on labor and employment matters. I also handle complicated discovery issues.
Jason: Some folks may not know that the OGC spends a lot of time working with clients in a preventative manner, before there is ever a problem. For example, I spend a fair amount of time each day discussing with clients what they want to do, helping them spot potential legal issues, and thinking through how they might avoid potential problems as they move forward.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Jason: As a former college administrator, I sometimes have to remind myself that I am now a lawyer and not a decision maker. This is an important distinction because legal advice, while often central to the decision making process, is just one factor our clients consider when making a decision. That said, as advisors we do help our clients think through what those other factors may be, and we often serve as sounding boards as they think through the myriad issues that go into each decision.
Eve: Jason is right. It can be hard to remember that we only give advice and that we don’t make the decisions (despite our clients sometimes wishing that we would just tell them what to do!). Another challenge is Harvard’s vastness and complexity. I did not appreciate the sheer size of Harvard or the breadth of its operations until I worked here. Moreover, every School and Unit, and even department, has its own personality, priorities, and structure. I was surprised to learn how decentralized Harvard is and that there is little in the way of University-wide policies and procedures. As a result, we work closely with the other attorneys in OGC to make sure that we have a guiding framework and give consistent advice while taking into consideration the unique needs of the specific client.
What are the professional backgrounds of your team members?
Eve: Before coming to Harvard, I worked for a prominent Boston law firm for five years. I loved working on trials and high-profile litigation, but I wasn’t sure how to do that outside of a law firm. In speaking with a couple of my law school classmates who had recently transitioned to in-house roles at higher education institutions, I learned that higher ed presented a unique opportunity to maintain a sophisticated litigation practice along with other more typical in-house roles, like counseling clients on challenging legal issues. I began to do more work representing schools and other nonprofit institutions, and enjoyed working with those clients because they had especially interesting matters and approached problems from a unique perspective. They tended to be more deliberate in crafting a comprehensive legal strategy that furthered their educational and research mission than the for-profit businesses that I had represented. When the Associate Attorney role at OGC opened up, I was excited to make the move!
Jason: Prior to attending law school, I earned an M.S. in Higher Education and then served in the administration of a small, private liberal arts college for a number of years. For quite some time, I have been deeply interested in the important work that institutions of higher education do every day – in classrooms and laboratories, on playing fields and in residence halls, in our communities, and across our society. Over time, I realized that I was becoming more and more interested specifically in the legal issues facing colleges and universities. That’s when I set off for law school, intending that one day my practice would sit at the intersection of law and higher education. Along the way, I also discovered a passion for labor and employment law, which is a useful passion to have since colleges and universities are also employers! After law school, I clerked for Justice Mary T. Sullivan of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and then worked for a boutique labor, employment, and higher education law firm in Boston before joining the OGC team here at Harvard.
What does success or your best day look like?
Jason: There are many things I like about my job, but my best day is one where I spend most of my time communicating with my clients. I very much enjoy getting to know my clients, learning about the work they do, understanding how I may help them achieve their goals, and providing them with legal advice. I also enjoy the fast-paced nature of such a day. Going from one issue to another to another not only keeps my day interesting, it also ensures I will learn something new – either about the University or about the law.
Eve: Success takes many forms. Helping the University achieve its goals to further its teaching and research mission is rewarding. Because I work only for Harvard, rather than many different institutions and companies, and I don’t bill my time like a lawyer at an outside law firm; I can think more holistically and creatively to address legal challenges. The cutting-edge nature of much faculty research, along with the University’s commitment to continuing innovation in how it pursues its educational mission, provides opportunities to help clients think through various intellectual property, regulatory compliance, labor and employment, online learning, privacy and security, and litigation scenarios. It’s also extremely exciting to get a favorable outcome in high-profile litigation, but, equally satisfying are the smaller victories that you don’t read about in the news. I work on a lot of matters where the client does not have much of a legal budget and hasn’t been successful in resolving a problem with another party on its own. In those cases, I can help negotiate a fair resolution of the dispute.