Higher ed law offers ‘a little bit of everything’

Marissa Hotujac, L’20, reflects on her two-year fellowship with KU General Counsel

As an attorney for a university, you get to work on a little bit of everything, says Marissa Hotujac, L’20.

That includes “litigation, contracts, athletics, labor and employment, policies, First Amendment issues, student and Greek life matters, and so much more,” Hotujac said. “There’s always something new to learn and it’s challenging, which I enjoy.”

Marissa Hotujac
Marissa Hotujac, L’20. Photo courtesy of Husch Blackwell.

During a two-year fellowship with the University of Kansas Office of the General Counsel, Hotujac got the chance to work on a wide variety of legal issues that intersect with higher education law. Hotujac completed the 2020-2022 term of the Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship at KU in March. She recently joined Husch Blackwell’s Kansas City office as an associate in the law firm’s higher education practice group.

With the general counsel’s office, Hotujac worked on projects related to the university’s response to COVID-19, contracts with international agencies, and athletics matters. She also had the chance to represent KU as the lead attorney in several internal disciplinary hearings.

“It was rewarding to see matters I’ve been involved with get implemented across campus – whether it was research I conducted on an issue or a company, editing university-wide policies, or advice that I gave to a client employed at KU,” Hotujac said.

Regular assignments included reviewing and negotiating contracts; conducting legal research and drafting memos; writing motions, briefs and other litigation documents; reviewing university policies; and advising clients.

Hotujac started full-time with the KU general counsel’s office in June 2020, as part of the pilot term for what officially became the Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship in 2022, said Lori Haaga, director of legal administration for the Office of the General Counsel.

Fellows in the program get support from the office while they study for the bar exam. Then, they’re immersed alongside the office’s team of attorneys, Haaga said. Once admitted to the Kansas Bar, the fellow practices as a licensed attorney for the university. They gain membership to the National Association of College and University Attorneys, along with access to conferences, webinars and continuing legal education offerings. Husch Blackwell also provides development opportunities, and the fellow becomes a participating member of the firm’s higher education practice group, Haaga said.

Hotujac interned with the KU General Counsel’s Office during the fall of her 3L year. When colleagues told her about the fellowship and encouraged her to apply, Hotujac took the leap.

“It’s relatively uncommon for a university general counsel’s office to employ recent law school graduates,” she said. “So, I was interested in applying for the fellowship because I thought it was an incredible opportunity to break into the higher education law field and to gain first-hand experience working in a university setting.”

Hotujac accepted the fellowship right out of law school and hit the ground running, said Brian A. White, general counsel for KU.

“Marissa epitomizes the essence and intent behind the creation of the fellowship,” White said. “Throughout her term, Marissa demonstrated exceptional character, significant leadership qualities and a keen intellect for legal issues facing higher education. Marissa’s future career practicing in higher education is bright and we look forward to following her wherever that road may lead.”

Originally from Overland Park, Hotujac earned her undergraduate degree in communication from Truman State University in 2016. At KU Law, she was a staff article editor with the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. Hotujac also participated in the 6th Semester in D.C. Program, which allows students to spend their final semester of law school in Washington, D.C.

“I had an externship with the Department of Justice, and I think spending my last semester working on real cases all day, every day helped prepare me for the professional world,” Hotujac said.

For law students interested in pursuing a similar fellowship or a career in higher education law, Hotujac advises taking a variety of courses, focusing on legal research and writing skills, and gaining practical experience through offerings such as the Deposition Skills Workshop or 6th Semester in D.C.

“Branch out and try to make yourself a well-rounded candidate. You never know where it will lead you,” Hotujac said. Applications for the 2024-2026 Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship open in fall 2023, with the two-year fellowship term starting in June 2024.

— By Margaret Hair