Call her a daddy’s girl, a wannabe chick-lit author, a philanthropic young professional or a frazzled mom, but at UTC she’s the lawyer.
As general counsel for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Courtney Hoss can be reviewing a tedious contract one minute, and in the next she can launch into damage control over hate speech allegations or investigate sexual harassment allegations or complaints of unfair compensation.
“There is not an area of the university that I don’t touch,” the 31-year-old from Nashville said. “A lot of things I deal with on a daily basis nobody ever sees and no one ever hears about.”
Mrs. Hoss, hired in September 2007 at $85,000 a year, is the first general counsel at UTC. Institutional expansion and growing faculty and student populations often produce more legal dilemmas for a university, Chancellor Roger Brown said.
“We feel like we have grown enough that one attorney could be kept busy just doing stuff for UTC,” Dr. Brown said. “The campus is a small town. You have 10,000 students, and in any small town you will have a whole range of legal issues.”
Mrs. Hoss’ post at UTC is the only one like it in the University of Tennessee system. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville does not have a general counsel assigned to it, Dr. Brown said.
Legal issues at other campuses are handled by the legal staff for the University of Tennessee system, he said. Several attempts to reach Catherine S. Mizell, general counsel for the UT system, were unsuccessful.
University attorneys are some of the last generalists in the legal profession, and though some larger universities have specialists who practice in one specific area of the law, most higher education lawyers handle a multitude of issues in a wide variety of legal areas, said Kathleen Santora, chief executive officer of the National Association of College and University Attorneys.
“Colleges and universities provide one of the most interesting settings in which to practice law,” Ms. Santora said. “They are not certain what will hit their desk on any particular day ... so they have to be prepared for just about anything.”
Though she is hesitant to discuss on-campus legal issues — matters of attorney-client privilege — Mrs. Hoss said 50 percent of her time is spent on issues involving employment law.
She has counseled the university on immigration issues and has met concern over inappropriate speech in classrooms, online and in unpublished manuscripts.
Before coming to UTC, Mrs. Hoss worked on labor employment issues for the Baker Donelson law firm in Chattanooga.
But with a 2-year-old daughter, the lifestyle of a big-firm attorney was challenging, she said.
“I have always been interested in (working within an institution),” said Mrs. Hoss, who took a pay cut to join UTC. “What better place is there to work? (A university) is a place where people go to fulfill dreams.”
The days of a legal jack-of-all-trades are long and complicated, but Mrs. Hoss strives for what she calls a life-work balance. Her quieter moments are spent raising her daughter, Campbell, and writing and reading romantic comedy. She submitted a book for publication last year that she had worked on for three years, but it was rejected, she said.
She also spends time on the board of directors of the Ronald McDonald House in Chattanooga.
Mrs. Hoss credits her active life to the influence of her father Bill Nuttall, a former professional athlete and the chief executive officer of Diadora America, a soccer shoe company based in Seattle.
“He is an overall driven guy. He is self-made and has an incredible work ethic,” she said. “It was a model for my current work ethic. Because I grew up with it, it has never been a question that I would strive to attain and achieve.”
AT A GLANCE
* Name: Courtney Hoss
* Age: 31
* Family: Lives with her husband, Bryan, also an attorney, and her daughter, Campbell, on Signal Mountain
* Education: Graduated from Indiana University in 1998 with a major in philosophy; graduated from the University of Memphis law school in 2001
* Hobbies: Dancing, working in the yard and writing
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...