Idaho's Prominent Law Firm Under Scrutiny for High-Profile Higher Ed Legal Bills and Controversial Investigations


Idaho's higher education landscape has been a battleground of legal complexities and controversies, and at the forefront of this legal fray stands Hawley Troxell, the go-to law firm for colleges and universities in the state.

In the past three years, their legal services, valued at over $850,000, have become a linchpin in addressing political firestorms, navigating intricate bond issues, and managing a myriad of matters for Idaho's academic institutions. However, the heavily redacted invoices and the firm's pivotal role in high-profile cases have sparked questions about transparency, outsourcing, and the cost-effectiveness of legal representation in the realm of higher education.

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The Role of Hawley Troxell

Boise-based Hawley Troxell has positioned itself as a legal powerhouse, boasting 110 attorneys and satellite offices across Idaho. Specializing in handling specialized legal issues or projects too overwhelming for in-house legal teams, the firm has become an integral part of Idaho's higher education legal landscape.

Tom Mortell, co-managing partner of Hawley Troxell, emphasized that the firm's involvement often revolves around specialized legal tasks that require a dedicated team. With higher education institutions dealing with issues such as IT contracts, construction, real estate, and particularly bond financing, Hawley Troxell's expansive expertise fills a crucial void.

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Legal Bills Breakdown

Idaho Education News obtained invoices from eight public colleges and universities, revealing a breakdown of Hawley Troxell's legal bills from January 1, 2021, to the fall of 2023:

  • University of Idaho: $482,857.96
  • Boise State University: $167,191.50
  • College of Western Idaho: $147,137.47
  • Lewis-Clark State College: $45,000
  • Idaho State University: $14,526.57
  • Total: $856,713.50

While North Idaho College, the College of Southern Idaho, and the College of Eastern Idaho did not contract with Hawley Troxell, the amounts billed highlight the significant financial engagement between the firm and various Idaho institutions.

Why Outsource Legal Work

Despite having in-house legal counsel at most institutions, outsourcing legal work to firms like Hawley Troxell is common. The primary reasons cited include managing workload factors, seeking specialized expertise, and addressing the intricacies of certain legal tasks, such as bond financing.

The invoices, though heavily redacted, reveal a spectrum of outsourced legal work, ranging from workplace investigations to trademark issues and compliance with regulations like HIPAA. Boise State and the University of Idaho, Hawley Troxell's largest higher education client, have utilized the firm for investigations and reports on diversity issues.

Controversies and Scrutiny

The firm's involvement in high-profile controversies has not gone unnoticed. In the wake of Idaho's heightened scrutiny of higher education, Hawley Troxell has found itself at the epicenter of key investigations, including Boise State's UF 200 course and the University of Idaho's diversity and inclusion programs. The reports produced by Hawley Troxell, often clearing institutions of alleged wrongdoings, have faced criticism. Despite the scrutiny, Tom Mortell staunchly defends the firm's independence and commitment to thorough investigations.

The Bottom Line and Legislative Response

The $850,000 in legal bills has raised eyebrows, prompting a response from legislators like Rep. Wendy Horman. While some outsourcing makes sense, the significant engagement with external attorneys has led to discussions about the broader implications of legal representation in the realm of higher education.

As Hawley Troxell continues to play a pivotal role in Idaho's higher education legal landscape, questions about transparency, accountability, and cost-effectiveness linger. The legal bills, controversies, and the firm's unapologetic advocacy for higher education have thrust the role of legal representation into the spotlight, prompting a broader conversation about the intersection of law and academia in Idaho.

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