Diane Lopez.

File photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Diane Lopez to retire as vice president, general counsel after 30 years

6 min read

Led through pandemic, admissions lawsuit, fight against Trump-era plan that would have forced out many international students

Diane Lopez, vice president and general counsel since 2019 and deputy general counsel for eight years before that, today announced plans to retire after 30 years of service to the University. She will step down at the end of February. Eileen Finan, a University Attorney since 1997, will serve as interim general counsel during the search for Lopez’s successor.

In a message to colleagues, Lopez wrote of the “great privilege” of working with colleagues over decades to “uphold Harvard’s values and aspirations.”

“I am grateful to all of you and to the institution for providing me with a legal career that is unparalleled for the many and varied challenges we have tackled together, often in the spotlight of public attention,” said Lopez. “In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a legal career more purpose-driven than the one I’ve been afforded by Harvard. The benefit of my many years as your legal counsel allows me to say that however seemingly intractable the challenges we face at any given time, the good work of the University will continue, as will the benefits Harvard provides to the nation and the world.”

President Claudine Gay thanked Lopez for her “extraordinary leadership and dedication to Harvard.”

“Throughout a remarkable career of service to Harvard, Diane Lopez has been a wise counselor, an outstanding legal strategist, a humane colleague, and a passionate advocate for the mission and values of Harvard University,” said Gay. “Since joining the Office of the General Counsel in 1994, she has expertly handled an exceptional variety of legal matters and has helped guide Harvard through innumerable challenges with an incisive mind and a steady hand. On behalf of the presidents, provosts, deans, and countless other Harvard community members she has advised over three decades, I want to convey my deepest appreciation and gratitude to Diane as she looks toward her next chapter. We wish her well in all that lies ahead.”

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 a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and an editor of “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual.” She received her bachelor’s degree in politics magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College. She was born in the Bronx.

She joined Harvard in February 1994, serving as a University Attorney from 1994 to 2011, then as deputy general counsel from 2011 to 2019, when she was tapped by President Larry Bacow to lead the Office of General Counsel (OGC). Announcing her appointment, Bacow called Lopez “an outstanding lawyer and colleague, admired across Harvard for her excellent judgment, her exemplary professionalism, her collaborative style, and her strong academic values.”

“In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a legal career more purpose-driven than the one I’ve been afforded by Harvard.”

Diane Lopez

Lopez led the OGC during the COVID-19 pandemic and through a series of high-profile legal challenges to the University. These have included, among others, the admissions lawsuit in which Harvard prevailed in the lower courts before the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2023, as well as a successful action during the pandemic to prevent a move by the Trump administration that would have prohibited many international students from continuing their education in the U.S. while studying online.

“Diane has served as general counsel at a particularly active time, as the University dealt with a range of legal issues including high-profile litigation such as the challenge to our undergraduate admissions practices,” said Provost Alan M. Garber. “With the superb team of legal professionals and staff she leads, she has helped Harvard remain true to its values and mission while solving problems and pursuing opportunities in the ever-changing world of the modern research university.”

Within her extraordinarily broad portfolio over the years, Lopez’s focus has often been directed to aspects of Harvard’s research enterprise. Her practice has included intensive work on the protection of human and animal subjects of research, laboratory safety requirements, the regulation of the use of biological agents in research, and technology transfer and grant management issues. She took the lead in providing legal counsel to Harvard principal investigators interested in creating and working with human embryonic stem cells, helping researchers navigate a Bush-era moratorium on federal funding for this research as well as the Obama-era stem-cell registry restrictions. She was also deeply involved in crafting the Massachusetts Biotechnology Law.

In her role as vice president and general counsel, Lopez has led a group of attorneys and legal professionals, as well as administrative staff, providing counsel in such diverse domains as intellectual property, regulatory compliance, real estate, labor and employment, online learning, privacy and security, charitable giving, and various litigation matters.

“One of my most satisfying accomplishments is having helped assemble an incredibly talented team of lawyers in the OGC who are uniquely suited to provide the advice and counsel you all need, now and in the future,” said Lopez. “Being part of that team and helping to build and sustain it are high among my proudest achievements. As much as I am looking forward to a more relaxed next chapter of my life, I will miss all of you, and I will miss the OGC most of all.”

Lopez has also been a close adviser to Harvard’s governing boards and has served on such bodies as the Academic Leadership Council, the Crisis Management Team, the Gift Policy Committee, and the President’s Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging.

Beyond Harvard, she served as a member of the Council of the Boston Bar Association from 2018 to 2021 and as chair of the BBA Nominating Committee in 2021. She is a current member of the BBA Women of Color Attorneys Leadership Forum and a past chair of the BBA Section on College and University Law. She was honored as one of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s In-House Leaders in 2021. She also served for 13 years as a trustee of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where she rose to become the board’s treasurer from 2004 to 2008.

Gay said that a search will begin soon for a new vice president and general counsel. She thanked Finan for her willingness to serve as interim general counsel from March 1 until a successor is identified and in place. “Eileen has served with dedication and distinction since joining the OGC in 1997, and I’m very grateful for her willingness to step in,” Gay said. “Her wide-ranging legal experience, her integrity and professionalism, and the trust she has earned from clients across Harvard promise to serve the University well in the interval between Diane’s departure and the arrival of her eventual successor.

“For today,” Gay continued, “I hope everyone will join me in congratulating Diane Lopez for her remarkable service to all of us.”