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The Trials and Tribulations of a University In-House Legal and Contracts Department


In recent years universities have increasingly internalised their legal support functions but this shift inevitably presents its challenges.

Managing Risk

A primary responsibility of a Legal/Contracts Department is to oversee the institution's risk management. Determining an acceptable level of risk is challenging as it's impractical to eradicate all risks in commercial transactions. In a recent discussion with a new client, I was told that their previous lawyers seemed intent on trying to eliminate all risk regardless of the commercial realities. This is just not practical and such an approach isn't feasible.

Those handling contracts serve as key decision-makers, necessitating an understanding of the university's objectives and strategy. Effective communication of associated risks is pivotal in making the correct decisions.

Impact on the Bottom Line

It's necessary to understand the costs of running a Legal/Contracts Department and their impact on profitability. If a team member regularly invests excessive time on relatively low-value contracts, it can significantly affect the overall financial gain. As such, the challenge for in-house lawyers is to strike a balance between efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and risk.

Staff Transition and Resources

Many universities in-house legal/contracts teams consist of:

i) Lawyers who have transitioned from the private sector who as a result may have a substantial adjustment period due to differing objectives in university contracts compared to those in the private sector. They could also struggle with the availability of resources, such as system access and precedents, particularly if it is a relatively new in-house support team.

ii) Other professionals, often with a background in research within the higher education sector. This could mean there needs to be a period of training in the reviewing, drafting, and negotiating of contracts for the incoming members of the team.

For further advice or assistance, please don't hesitate to contact Richard Jenkins at 024 7698 0613 or

Remember, while this information is valuable, it should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice tailored to your specific situation.

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