Using Outside Legal Counsel Isn't Common For Illinois Public Universities, Officials Say

Jun 12, 2017

Northern Illinois University officials say the school spent more than $180,000 for outside legal counsel to handle an investigation by the state Office of the Executive Inspector General into hiring at NIU.

Altgeld Hall, Northern Illinois University
Credit Susan Stephens

NIU officials say the cost of outside legal counsel reflects 320 total hours worked by nine people in the outside firm. That calculates to more than $560 per hour.

NIU President Doug Baker said he wanted to use outside legal counsel for the investigation to avoid conflicts of interest. Officials say NIU also may use outside counsel depending on the availability of General Counsel or the complexity of the case.

But officials at other Illinois universities say it is not common practice to turn to outside legal counsel.

Illinois State University spokesman Eric Jome says ISU hasn’t retained outside legal counsel recently for any investigation or litigation.

“When we do have more specialized areas, like particular real estate transactions that the university might be making, immigration issues with faculty members – things like that – those are much more complicated and we would really prefer that a specialist be working on that,” Jome said.

Jome says the university only works with outside firms every so often for specialty areas.

“Things like intellectual property or trademark issues, faculty research publications, things that are invented, and faculty members that are applying for a patent on something,” Jome said.

Western Illinois University officials say they rarely use outside counsel for OEIG cases, but the school usually pays between $150 and 250 per hour when they do use outside counsel.

Update (June 14): ISU later responded to a FOIA request made by WNIJ regarding outside legal counsel hourly rates. Provided documents say the school pays $140 to $415 per hour for such services, depending on case subject matter.