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In-House Counsel: Barbara Shiels

Few lawyers remain with a single employer for 35-plus years.
Barbara Shiels has. Now senior associate general counsel for the University of Minnesota, Shiels went straight from U of M Law School to the University of Minnesota Attorneys Office, predecessor to the institution’s Office of General Counsel.
To say that higher education law has changed substantially during Shiels’ career would be a gross understatement. Major research universities’ in-house legal departments have expanded dramatically since the early 1980s, when many schools lacked inside counsel. Nowadays, even smaller colleges and universities tend to have inside attorneys, if not full-blown general counsel offices, said Shiels, who sat on the board of the National Association of College and University Attorneys in the 1990s.
Research institutions like the U of M face increasingly complex legal issues, driving in-house legal departments’ growth. Today, one of Shiels’ core responsibilities involves research regulation – in particular, health sciences research, a rapidly evolving and often sensitive domain that’s become a major revenue driver and source of prestige. Shiels advises and counsels university departments and labs on human and animal research regulation, conflicts of interest, and research misconduct, all of which bear directly on labs’ output.
“The ability to get a drug, device, biologic to market depends heavily on doing every step correctly,” she said. Researchers who flout ethical or legal guidelines governing their work, or falsify data or results, “demean science,” she added.
Although she’s not an immigration lawyer, Shiels is also the primary point of contact for students and faculty with immigration issues. “I believe that a global campus, with international students and international faculty-scholars, is really important to the mission of the university,” she said.

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