A six-person committee is preparing to hire Butler University’s first in-house legal counsel.
Over the past six years, the university spent $2.4 million dollars on outside legal counsel, said Ben Hunter, chief of staff.
Hunter currently manages Butler’s outside legal contracts at Butler, and he recently completed a study to see if having an in-house attorney would reduce the cost.
He compared Butler’s legal costs with various peer institutions such as Gonzaga and Xavier. He compiled research using their costs, along with articles from The Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Association of College and University Attorneys.
If a university pays more than $300,000 in legal fees per year, it is more cost-effective to hire in-house counsel, according to research article from NACUA. On average, outside counsel can cost from $250 to $400 per hour, said La Veda Howell, executive director of human resources.
“We’re now at the mark where we can use it,” Hunter said.
In-house counsel was the first major hire for Purdue President Mitch Daniels, Hunter said.
The Butler job was posted last week, and résumés have already been sent to the committee
“We’re not a maverick here,” said Bruce Arick, vice president of finance and administration and a member of the search committee. “Higher education has become much more complex.”
The legal counsel would report to the president and executives, and his or her primary role would be to advise internally on issues of compliance with federal and state laws, Arick said.
Situations at Virginia Tech and Penn State heighten the laws over universities and add more oversight.
Universities are subject to an increasing level of compliance with different federal laws, including HIPAA, FERPA, Title IX and the Clery Act, which require frameworks and specifics of how incidents are reported on a federal level, Arick said.
“A lot of it is not intuitive,” Arick said.
The research was very thorough in determining what type of person would fit the job description, Howell said.
The search committee is made up of Arick, Howell and Hunter, along with Jim White, an Indiana University Law professor and Butler trustee; Margaret Brabant, political science department chair and Provost Kate Morris.
He or she will make sure policies and procedures are delivered consistently across campus.
The committee is searching for someone who is flexible and creative, who can manage processes and relationships with different departments, Howell said. Whoever is hired will work with athletics, colleges, human resources, Clowes Memorial Hall Staff and the institution as a whole.
“This is one individual that is solely responsible for all the legalities that go on in the university,” she said.
A lot of the counsel’s work will involve employment contracts. For example, a lot may change in terms of health insurance for employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, Howell said. The counsel will also be in charge of ensuring the university is in compliance.
Hunter predicts the counsel will be on staff in the next 30 to 60 days.
“They’ll be quite busy,” he said, “learning the Butler Way and everything.”