Harvard University has named Diane E. Lopez as its next vice president and general counsel. She will take over on June 1 from Robert Iuliano, who is leaving after 16 years in the post to head Gettysburg College.
Lopez, who is now deputy general counsel, came to Harvard in 1994 as a University attorney in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC). She has been deputy general counsel since 2011, dealing with a range of issues at the University, including embryonic stem cell research, intellectual property, laboratory safety, scientific misconduct, privacy, and student affairs.
“Diane is an outstanding lawyer and colleague, admired across Harvard for her excellent judgment, her exemplary professionalism, her collaborative style, and her strong academic values,” Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a message to the community. “A valued member of our Office of the General Counsel for 25 years, she knows Harvard, she has a deep understanding of the complex array of laws and regulations affecting higher education, and she has earned the respect and trust of colleagues across the University.”
Lopez will lead the OGC, whose in-house lawyers and staff provide a broad range of legal advice and services to the University and its faculties and departments. The OGC also retains and oversees outside counsel when situations call for it.
“For 25 years, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of working with terrific colleagues across Harvard to address legal challenges and help them to do what they do best. I’m honored now to have this opportunity, especially at a time when Harvard and higher education face legal issues that are so important,” Lopez said. “I’m grateful to President Bacow for his trust, to Bob Iuliano for his leadership and partnership over the years, to my OGC colleagues for all the remarkable things they do for Harvard, and to the people across the University whose work makes this such a fascinating place to be a lawyer.”
The OGC is staffed with roughly 17 attorneys and legal professionals, as well as administrative staff. In addition to heading the office, Lopez will serve as chief legal adviser to Bacow and other University leaders.
Before coming to Harvard, Lopez worked for eight years in the New York office of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, concentrating on commercial litigation, as well as pro bono work. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was an editor of “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual,” a publication of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. She received her bachelor’s degree in politics from Mount Holyoke College.
Lopez arrived in the OGC just a month after Iuliano. He said that over the years she has proven herself not just a skilled attorney but also a valuable colleague, willing to deal with complex and pressing issues even if it meant long hours.
“She cares about the institution. She cares about the office. She cares about the people in the office — as people — and she is always willing to go the extra mile to help,” Iuliano said.
As his deputy, Lopez provided invaluable support and advice and deserves a large share of the credit for the office’s accomplishments, Iuliano said.
“The OGC handles, and handles well, a remarkably broad array of complex and important issues for all the Schools and units at Harvard. So much of what the office is — responsive, client-focused, values-driven, engaged, and, yes, fun — reflects Diane’s imprint as its deputy and long-serving member,” Iuliano said. “The office and the University will be in extraordinarily capable hands given the soundness of her judgment, her personal integrity, and the enormous confidence that she has inspired in the people she’s worked with across the University over her 25 years.”
Lopez and Iuliano agreed that the office’s work is unlikely to slacken in the years to come. As a premier educational institution, Harvard is often held up as an example of what may be right or wrong in higher education, both in public debate and in the courtroom. Lopez said there’s no reason to believe that the steady drumbeat of such cases will slow.
“Many lawyers’ careers have one or two cases that get national attention. Here, almost every week you have something that you’re working on that is at least going to get attention in the Crimson, as well as local and often national media attention,” Lopez said. “We have many legal challenges, in part because Harvard is an iconic institution of higher education.”
In addition, the cutting-edge nature of much faculty research, along with the University’s commitment to continuing innovation in how it pursues its educational mission, means a steady demand for legal advice in an array of fields, including intellectual property, regulatory compliance, real estate, labor and employment, online learning, privacy and security, charitable giving, and litigation.
Lopez was born in the Bronx, and grew up in a low-income, largely Puerto Rican and African-American neighborhood. She attended the private Fieldston School starting at age 4. Lopez said she benefitted from the school’s affirmative-action policies and scholarships, and she attended until her family moved to New Hampshire when she was in middle school.
Years later, while Lopez was practicing law in New York City, a former colleague who was leaving Harvard’s OGC contacted her and urged her to apply for the vacant position, calling it “a great legal job.”
After many years here, Lopez agrees.
“Every day there’s something new. There are tons of issues in the news. You’re working for people who are doing fantastic things in the world. You’re associated with an institution that’s trying its hardest every day to do the right thing on many, many dimensions,” Lopez said. “It’s just an exciting, interesting job. You get up every day and you think you know what you’re going to do that day, and then some item hits, and you’re off to the races doing something else.”