The University of North Georgia is one of the state’s largest public universities, with more than 18,000 students at its five campuses in Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee County. Its designation in federal law as one of only six senior military colleges in the United States creates a unique atmosphere at the Dahlonega campus.
Through new programs like the Center for Cyber Operations Education, its new virtual hospitals and the success students are having with nationally competitive scholarships, the university is creating opportunities for students to be regionally and globally competitive.
Based in Dahlonega, Jenna Colvin is UNG’s general counsel.
UNG’s legal department includes one attorney and a paralegal. It hired its first in-house attorney in 2014, after the January 2013 consolidation of the North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, two of the top-performing schools in the University System of Georgia.
“We’re cost-effective,” Colvin said of the two-person team.
As part of a state agency, the university is represented in litigation by Attorney General Chris Carr’s office. Tony Askew of Meunier Carlin & Curfman has an appointment as a special assistant attorney general for intellectual property matters. Lorene Schaefer of Schaefer & Associates and Matt Gilligan of Hall, Arbery, Gilligan, Roberts & Shanlever provide outside counsel support for employment and student conduct investigations. Kramer Partners (formerly Kramer & Alfano) handles immigration work, and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz provides Title IX compliance advice.
“My daily duties are almost never the same, which is the best part of the job,” Colvin said, adding that any given day generally can include routine matters such as contract review, employment law and real estate transactions. As the attorney for a public institution, Colvin said that First Amendment and due process issues also are a regular part of her practice.
“There is no shortage of interesting legal issues on a university campus,” she said. “From contractual disputes over dinosaur fossils to ensuring we provide a safe environment for minors visiting campus, the nature of the work to support our faculty and students is varied and challenging.”
The job, Colvin said, also has provided some “once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” That included last summer’s attendance at ROTC “summer camp” in Kentucky at the U.S. Army Cadet Command headquarters at Fort Knox, which provided a special insight into UNG’s nearly 800-student-member Corps of Cadets.
While less physically demanding than what the students experience, the week did culminate in a tandem jump with the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, Colvin said.
“Not many lawyers consent to being pushed out of a plane at 13,000 feet as part of their job,” she added.
Route to the Top
After graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in 2000, Colvin joined the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird. She later was a partner at FisherBroyles, where she created the firm’s higher education practice area and served as outside counsel to the Georgia Independent College Association, Young Harris College and other higher-education clients.
“I quickly realized higher education law provided a professional opportunity to do interesting work and impact student success,” Colvin said.
In 2010, North Georgia College & State University became a client, and, as the institution grew, so did the volume of its legal work. In 2014, the university offered Colvin a role as its first in-house lawyer.
Colvin and her husband, Heath, have been married for nearly 12 years and are the parents of a first-grader.
“I gave up on my dream of playing professional beach volleyball 10 years ago and took up tennis,” Colvin said, adding that she wishes she had more time to play.
The family lives in downtown Atlanta but likes to adventure in the North Georgia mountains on most weekends.
The “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy, by Sigrid Undset, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928. Colvin said she enjoys most of her books on audible.com. Next up, for her son’s school book club, is “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” by Beverly Tatum.