Robert Iuliano is Vice President and General Counsel at Harvard University, a position he has held since 2003. Before Harvard, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Massachusetts, worked as an associate in the litigation department at Choate, Hall & Stewart, and clerked for Judge Levin Campbell on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. A member of the BBA Council, Bob also has served on various BBA panels and committees, most recently participating on the Strategic Communications Work Group and on the steering committee for the In-House Counsel Diversity Conference. In addition, Bob is a member of the BBA’s Executive Committee, Public Policy Development Working Group, and served as Chair of the BBA Nominating Committee. He was the editor of a book published by MCLE in 2009 on College and University Law and also teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- What are the unique challenges that you have faced as the leader of a legal department at a world-class university?
It is interesting, exciting and challenging to serve as a lawyer for Harvard. The university has a remarkable breadth and ambition about it, and so the scope of the issues that we confront is unusually broad – ranging from student behavior and safety, faculty research, tenure, real estate development, intellectual property, taxation, and countless other issues. We are in many ways like a small municipality with the set of legal issues that presents, all in service to a robust research university and the distinctive legal issues those activities generate.
Universities also have a wide range of constituencies – and an intensity of engagement matched by few other spheres of society. Universities are accountable to faculty and students; parents; employees; unions; alumni; donors; local, state, and federal officials; and the media – all of whom have an interest and a stake in what we do. Working at a university requires the ability to be cognizant of the many interests and perspectives of these stakeholders
Finally, given Harvard’s profile, much of what we do as lawyers sits on the public boundary. Issues at Harvard often end up receiving attention locally, nationally and sometimes internationally, and our advice needs to take that reality into account.
- What leadership tips do you have for a new general counsel in the college and university world?
Universities are, above all, relationship-driven. I don’t think we are alone in this respect, but the importance of forming personal and working relationships is certainly pronounced in higher education. A successful general counsel will start by understanding the culture and values of the institution and by establishing effective relationships with key clients. These relationships are essential when hard issues arise. In addition, they help advance a critical role for the general counsel: to translate the outside world to the campus and translate the campus to the outside world. The general counsel has a foot in both worlds, so getting to know your institution intimately is essential if you’re going to articulate the values of the institution effectively.
Second, general counsels need to appreciate that their role is different from the roles of the other attorneys in the institution. The governing boards, university president, and other senior officials are looking to you for legal advice that is wrapped in a much broader context of institutional objectives and judgment.
In the end, though, good lawyering is good lawyering: it requires responsiveness to clients, sensitivity to the objectives they want to achieve, and the willingness to work hard to help them find the best ways to meet those objectives. This means you must be a close listener and a good partner.
- What is your strategy for managing competing demands from a wide variety of constituents?
Most importantly, make sure that you recruit the very best colleagues. Harvard has been incredibly fortunate to attract lawyers who are wonderful people with great judgment, extensive experience, and a true commitment to the mission of the institution. These are hard jobs, and the university’s legal work requires people who are as talented as their clients. So, a universal proposition is hire these competent people and let them do their jobs.
Another responsibility – made more challenging in today’s world of instantaneous media coverage – is to distinguish the immediate from the important. It is difficult to keep your eye on the longer-term institutional priorities when the next crisis is demanding your attention, but the general counsel must try to ensure that truly critical matters don’t fall off the screen.
The third aspect, which I mentioned earlier, is a commitment to and understanding of the institution’s mission and values. This helps you prioritize – not everything can be done first. The relationships also help when you have to slow down a project either to work through some hard issues or because other matters warrant more immediate focus.