Campus & community, Campus news

If you ask for help, UC Berkeley’s attorney might come visit

Chief Campus Counsel David Robinson makes a point to get out of his office

Robinson, in a suit and tie, looks at the camera
Chief Campus Counsel David Robinson said he likes to visit his clients across campus. (UC Berkeley photo by Stephen McNally)
Chief Campus Counsel David Robinson spoke Tuesday during a Campus Conversation. (UC Berkeley video by Stephen McNally)

You may have spotted David Robinson, UC Berkeley’s top attorney, as he walked around campus. Chances are, he admitted during a Campus Conversation on Tuesday, he was staring at his phone.

“I’ve had people email me and say, ‘I walked by you and waved, but you were looking at your phone,’” said Robinson, who leads a team of five people who manage the multitude of legal issues facing the campus. “I get a lot of email.”

His legal portfolio is vast. Issues like development fights, employment rules, intellectual property contracts, research agreements, sexual violence and harassment policies and construction warranties all regularly cross Robinson’s desk, along with updates on the 50 to 60 active lawsuits Berkeley is facing at any one time.

“It is never the same day twice,” Robinson told the crowd of students, staff and faculty gathered at Alumni House for October’s Campus Conversation, a monthly event where students, staff and faculty can ask questions of Berkeley’s top leaders. “We continually change the mix of what we’re doing.”

But rather than getting stuck in meetings or, worse, behind a computer facing an avalanche of email, Robinson said he makes a point to trek from office to office across campus, meeting staff and faculty where they are, even if that means he ends up walking and emailing at the same time.

“It is really important to me to try to convey that our business is to further advance the business of the university,” said Robinson, who has worked at Berkeley since 2011. “I have a real allegiance to the mission of the university.”

Robinson gave the audience an overview of the major issues he was working on, with help from University of California system attorneys in Oakland and private-sector lawyers, including campus free speech issues, a suit over development by the city of Berkeley and new policies designed to better address incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus.

But Robinson said he and his colleagues would be putting the most work into what he sees as the next frontier of university legal work: foraging scientific partnerships between research scientists collaborating across institutional, national and legal boundaries.

Research “is not happening in one place (anymore), it is happening all over the world,” he said. “A bunch of labs across the planet are all simultaneously collaborating on the same problem.”

Robinson said his job was to make sure to never get in the way of the research.

The next Campus Conversation will be Nov. 20 when Eugene Robinson, the new head of Human Resources, will take questions from staff, faculty and students.