What I am about to tell you will seem like a joke, because it is hard to credit such idiocy even on a university campus.
It is true, however: LSU has appointed a new general counsel who is not qualified to practice law in Louisiana.
As if that weren’t absurd enough, LSU and its new top lawyer, Thomas Skinner, say he can function just fine without the most basic qualification for his $270,000-a-year job.
Skinner may be an accomplished lawyer in Illinois, where he does have a license, but his résumé is not enough to explain how he could land such a plum in Louisiana. A rational hire would know his way around our legal system; instead, Skinner brings connections to the table.
For Skinner and LSU Vice President Daniel Layzell to say a LSU general counsel does not need a Louisiana law license is poppycock, as even a cursory reading of state law will demonstrate. Indeed, perhaps Skinner knows it is so, for he has applied to the state Supreme Court for “limited admission” to the bar as “in-house counsel.”
That, Skinner says, would let him do “everything short” of “representing LSU in state court, something that LSU’s general counsel has never done anyway.” He is wrong there, too. Ray Lamonica made several court appearances before he was replaced as LSU general counsel in 2012, but never mind. Skinner does not appear to meet the requirements for admission as in-house counsel anyway.
Evidently $270,000 a year isn’t enough to make Skinner familiarize himself with the revised statutes governing the practice of law in Louisiana or the rules promulgated by the state Supreme Court.
Those rules say that an in-house counsel license may be issued only to an employee of a “corporation,” an “association” or a “business.” The Supreme Court certainly has the power to bend the meaning of words, but it is hard to see how LSU could meet any of those definitions. If the in-house counsel rule were intended to apply to universities, it would presumably have said so.
It takes months for the Supreme Court to rule on an application for an in-house counsel license, which is generally good for four years. Skinner says if he is turned down, he will take the state bar exam — another implicit acknowledgement that, so long as he lacks a Louisiana law license, LSU might as well not have a general counsel.
“He’s not able to litigate, but that wasn’t a concern for us,” Layzell said. “We hired him to oversee our legal strategy, the legal needs of the university.” Well, it is a mystery how Skinner is to accomplish that, given that the unlicensed are not allowed to “render or furnish legal services or advice” in return for a “pecuniary benefit” at all.
The statute spells out what those forbidden services include. Without a license, there can be no “advising or counseling another as to secular law” or “assisting in the drawing or procuring of a paper, document or instrument.”
The duties of a general counsel, meanwhile, are listed on LSU’s website. They include “rendering advice and counsel on matters pending before the board” and supervising contract attorneys.
Thus, Skinner cannot perform the services we are paying him for without committing a crime. The penalty for practicing law without a license is a $1,000 fine and two years in the slammer.
When LSU winds up with a general counsel who cannot “assume to be an attorney at law” without risking arrest, a suspicion is bound to arise that professional competence was not the only factor considered by the Board of Supervisors.
Skinner’s talents may be considerable, but they lie elsewhere. He was a fairly big wheel in the EPA under the second President Bush and has worked as a policy adviser in the Illinois Governor’s Office. His father was chief of staff to the first President Bush, and his sister, formerly a Fox News anchor, is married to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
If I told you that made him a good choice for LSU, you’d know I was joking.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.