Many universities will have a Faculty of Law whose academic staff would be largely (or entirely) composed of certified lawyers; I imagine that the same would be true of many of their PhD students.

Similarly, many universities will have dedicated legal teams that assist the university staff with dealing with legal issues (e.g. corporate compliance issues, patent law, etc).

Would the lawyers in these legal teams typically be composed of staff members and/or postgraduate students from the Faculty of Law, or would they simply be lawyers that have been hired by the university as support staff?


3 Answers 3


Large or well-funded universities have dedicated general counsel like any other corporate entity, and they function in the same way that corporate general counsel do. Their job is to protect the university's legal interests, which includes things like negotiating with unions, damage control and prevention for legal problems, and defense during litigation, which is often contracted out to a specialist law firm depending on the nature of the litigation. In particular, they will often be on the other side of the table from faculty, so it would be problematic if they were faculty as well.

I suppose technically the office of general counsel is "support staff," but it's a bizarre way to refer to an office that works at the very top of the administrative hierarchy.


The legal office of a university is staffed by highly qualified legal professionals who manage the (often very complicated) legal side of the many issues that come up in the process of running a large academic institution (or any similarly large organization for that matter). These professionals do not teach or do research, and do not have the academic title of professor.

They are not “just” support staff. In fact, they are not “support” anything. The choice of wording of your question is quite unfortunate. Professors are not the center of the universe, other people who are not professors also do equally or more important work (and make more money to boot).

  • 5
    Arguably they are "support" in the sense that all administrators are "support": they support the university's central mission and reason for existence, which is always academics. Nov 3, 2019 at 2:39
  • Well, I was thinking more along the lines of a business analogy, where you’ve got the staff that work to further a business’s core business (in universities, that would be teaching and research, since that’s where they make their money), and support staff whose role is to help facilitate them in doing so.
    – nick012000
    Nov 3, 2019 at 2:45
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    @nick012000 yes, I understand where you and Elizabeth are coming from. Being academics, you naturally think that academics are the ones who do the “real” work that everything else revolves around, and everyone else is just there to support you. I’m saying that’s a (in my opinion) misguided way of looking at things. Calling someone ‘“just” support staff’ suggests that you view yourself as more important than them. Even if it were true (which I’m far from convinced is the case), you could be a bit more tactful in how you express this particular distinction.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 3, 2019 at 3:21
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    OK, but in that case even support staff aren't "just" support staff. I don't personally find it offensive to draw a distinction between someone whose job is a reorg away from nonexistence and someone whose work product is the primary purpose of the organization. I say this as someone who has worked in several support staff positions as well as professional "supporting" staff positions. Nov 3, 2019 at 4:03
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    @ElizabethHenning yes, publicly calling people “just” anything is not a great idea. To me it suggests dismissiveness. Here’s an example in a different context of how the word “just” signals people’s dismissiveness towards a particular area of math.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 3, 2019 at 4:14

I think that in most places it would be seen as improper to hold both roles officially. This is because legal disputes sometimes arise with the faculty. So, the job of a legal officer needs to be clear. They represent the university itself.

That said, however, the legal staff might, in some cases, consult with the faculty of the law school on some technical or ethical or other aspects of their work. Conversely, the law faculty might on occasion need representation in civil or criminal situations and can call on the legal officers (if appropriate).

It is also not impossible (some places) for faculty members to also have a private legal practice. In such a situation they could be retained by the university to handle some case that arises. But the roles are clear. The person is acting as a faculty member separately from their legal representation.

But conflicts of interest need to be avoided in all cases.

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