The LSU System’s newly hired, $270,000-a-year general counsel does not have a license to practice law in Louisiana.
The LSU Board of Supervisors approved Thomas Skinner’s hiring in December. He officially started work in January, leaving a Chicago law firm, where he specialized in regulatory and environmental matters.
“He’s not able to litigate, but that wasn’t a concern for us. We hired him to oversee our legal strategy, the legal needs of the university,” said Daniel T. Layzell, the university’s new vice president for finance and administration.
Skinner, who has a law license in Illinois, said the lack of a Louisiana law license won’t hinder his ability to do the job of LSU’s chief lawyer.
He said he has applied to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Committee on Bar Admissions under a “limited admission for in-house counsel” provision that would allow him to practice law exclusively for LSU.
Louisiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Valerie Willard said the review process generally takes 90 to 120 days but could take longer depending on questions that come up as the application is reviewed. The limited admission designation is good for four years.
With the limited license, Skinner said: “I can do everything short of going to court and representing LSU in state court, something LSU’s general counsel has never done anyway,” Skinner said. “We have outside counsel that does exactly that. ... We have a whole bunch of lawyers who represent us.”
As general counsel, Skinner is the LSU administration’s and the LSU board’s chief legal adviser. Duties include review of legal contracts, preparing reports and giving advice on matters pending before the board, including changes to by-laws, proposed projects at LSU campuses and litigation involving the university.
“If my application is rejected for some reason, I will sit for the Louisiana bar,” Skinner said.
LSU’s prior general counsels have been veteran Louisiana lawyers, one of them a former U.S. attorney and executive counsel to a governor.
Skinner was a partner at several law firms, the most recent being Jones Day, which is based in Cleveland but has offices around the world.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Skinner to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he served as acting head of the national enforcement and compliance program and a regional administrator. Skinner also has been a senior policy adviser in the Illinois Governor’s Office and a director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Skinner has a couple of high-profile connections. His father, Samuel, was White House chief of staff and U.S. Department of Transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. His brother-in-law is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is married to Jane Skinner, a former anchor at Fox News.
LSU System President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said Skinner’s “background and knowledge fits exactly what we were looking for in our lead general counsel.” He added that Skinner has a “broad range of experience in both the state and federal government arenas.”
Skinner replaced Shelby McKenzie, who had served in the job for just over two years. He has practiced with the Taylor Porter, a Baton Rouge law firm that LSU contracts for many of its legal matters.
McKenzie came in after Ray Lamonica, a former U.S. attorney and law professor, left in September 2012. Lamonica, who has served in the post for a decade, returned to the full-time teaching faculty at the LSU Law Center. McKenzie has been an adjunct professor at the law center.