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Smith Welcomes First In-House Counsel

Georgia Yuan, chief legal counsel for the University of Idaho, became Smith’s first general counsel on June 1. Yuan is responsible for providing legal counsel to President Carol Christ and deciding when outside legal advice or assistance with litigation is necessary. “Upon coming to Smith, I became convinced that the college would profit from the advice of someone with legal training and intelligence, in creatively addressing individual problems and in developing policy,” explains Christ. “Georgia Yuan will be a resource to the entire campus, providing advice about avoiding legal vulnerability and resolving legal conflicts."

Yuan, who was an attorney in private practice with a Pullman, Washington, law firm before going to the University of Idaho in 1990, is a graduate of Oberlin College. She received a master of science from Stanford University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Idaho. Coming with her to Northampton are her husband, Larry Meinert, a geology professor at Washington State University; her daughter Kim, who will be a first-year student at Oberlin in the fall; and her son James, who will be a high school sophomore.

At Idaho, Yuan and her three colleagues in Idaho’s office of university counsel covered the full range of legal services for the university and the faculty -- contract and employment law, hiring, affirmative action, equal opportunity, terminations and grievances. Students are not very much involved in her work, Yuan says, “unless they’re in trouble…. If this job is done well, students aren’t even aware there is an office of the general counsel.” But she does enjoy mentoring students and has used law student interns in her office.

Asked what she felt was her most important work at Idaho, she said she believes she created “a feeling on campus that there is always an office you can go to for policy and legal advice that won’t tell you what you have to do but will help you accomplish what you want to do. …What I like about being a general counsel in an institution of higher education is that you assume -- and I think you’re right in assuming -- that you’re [in] an environment where people thrive on learning at all levels and for a variety of reasons, but always at great depth.”

Commenting on the value for Smith of having in-house counsel, Yuan notes: “You have an attorney focused very particularly on what’s happening here and how people desire to interact from both a contractual perspective as well as just how you want to order your employment relationships, how you want to order your relationships with students, just how you want to organize [the college].” Outside counsel will continue to be called on for litigation and for highly complex areas, like intellectual property, taxation, certain areas of giving and construction and real estate transactions. In a general counsel, Yuan says “you have someone who can help you be much more efficient about engaging an expert on the outside.”

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