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The Legal Services team were runners-up to Astra Zeneca in the Cambridgeshire Law Society Legal Excellence Awards 2021.

Like many organisations, universities were impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of Brexit. However, the team comprising the University of Cambridge's Legal Services Division met these challenges with resilience, flexibility and diligence, despite being a team of only 7.4 FTE solicitors in an organisation with over 12,000 staff, around 19,000 students, and £1.3 billion in gross income.

As well as being runners-up to Astra Zeneca in the Cambridgeshire Law Society Legal Excellence Awards, these achievements were also acknowledged internally through the Professional Services Recognition Scheme: two solicitors received the Cross University Team Award, celebrating success and collaboration in cross-functional teams, and another team member was shortlisted - from roughly 6,000 staff - for the “Unsung Hero” Award.

Emma Rampton, Registrary (who leads the University’s professional services), commented: “Every member of our legal team has gone the extra mile – and beyond! – during this uniquely demanding period. I have been immensely impressed by their extraordinary contribution to the University’s mission.”

The team worked on a number of issues including:

Cambridge COVID‐19 Testing Centre

Members of the team worked round the clock on a suite of contracts to establish and extend the operation of this centre. The solicitors worked closely with internal colleagues, Government representatives, and with legal counterparts in large pharmaceutical companies, enabling the University to share its campus and world‐leading expertise to help keep Cambridgeshire and the UK safe. The cutting‐edge facility has carried out over 2 million tests.

COVID19 Genomics UK Consortium (COGUK)

Two solicitors from the team led on the drafting of the agreement (and other extensive documentation) to establish the University‐centred COG‐UK Consortium, which involved £20 million in funding and brought together four UK PHAs and 15 academic partners. This demanding and highly technical legal exercise supported the establishment of an extraordinary research programme, leading to the development of innovative analytical methodology and data pipelines for SARS‐CoV‐2 genomics

Asymptomatic pooled testing programme

The team acted as key legal advisors to the project group that established a ground‐breaking pooled asymptomatic COVID‐19 testing programme for students, which has contributed both to minimising infection among the student body and wider community and to vital research on virus transmission.

Student matters / Online teaching & learning

Team members worked closely, in a pressurised environment, with 150 Departments, Faculties and Schools to facilitate the rapid transition to online teaching due to COVID‐19, helping to avoid large‐scale disruption and enabling over 19,000 students to continue their studies. This was a complex, multi‐faceted endeavour, including:

  • reviewing student contracts and advising on communications about course charges to ensure legal compliance and limit claims
  • establishing guidance for the recording and transmission of lectures and related activities across the University
  • advising on issues related to the failed grades standardisation algorithm, helping avoid the need to defer students.

Employment matters

The team’s employment solicitors worked diligently on a wide variety of matters, enabling the University to swiftly issue policies on issues including remote working, global mobility, furlough, annual leave, returning to the workplace, and redeployment. This included the creation of two staff hardship loan schemes and a new mutual respect policy, while also handling multiple Employment Tribunal proceedings.

Philanthropy

Specialist members of the team advised on a range of complex donation agreements, directly facilitating the acceptance of over 25 major gifts totalling £71 million to support the University’s mission. Examples include donations to:

  • endow a professorship of autism research
  • support the building of the Heart and Lung Research Institute; and
  • fund the Endangered Landscapes Programme, an ambitious multimillion pound initiative to achieve a more sustainable future

Corporate

Members of the team advised the University’s technology transfer subsidiary on high‐profile M&A and corporate transactions, including, for example, the merger of 10 privately-held biotechnology companies creating a novel, trailblazing model for pharmaceutical R&D. The team also advised on the complex legal structures around the Regulatory Genome Project, a transformational initiative to sequence the world’s regulatory text.

Fishmongers’ Hall inquests

The legal team was closely involved with the fallout from the tragic events at Fishmongers Hall resulting in the death and injury of staff members. This involved extensive support of internal reviews and careful management of the University’s involvement as an Interested Person at the inquests, including a broad disclosure exercise. The team has acted with great sensitivity on a difficult matter.

Date awarded

05 May 2021

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