Frequently Asked Questions
The attorneys in the WSU Division of the AGO are not employed by WSU and do not report to any university official. They are employees of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General and report to the Washington State Attorney General. WSU and the State of Washington (through WSU) are the clients. WSU provides support staff and office space to the Division.
WSU is a complex organization governed by thousands of laws and regulations, some of which are very specialized. These laws and regulations are continually changing. In addition, questions regarding legal and contractual obligations, rights, and liabilities arise in many different areas of the university. The attorneys in the AGO provide advice and guidance to university personnel across the broad spectrum of WSU operations.
The AGO provides legal advice and representation to WSU administrators, officers, and other employees acting in their official capacities, as well as to the WSU Regents. The AGO’s client is WSU, not any particular individual working for WSU, although the final authority to make legal decisions on behalf of WSU rests with the President and, ultimately, the Regents. The attorneys in the AGO do not make decisions on behalf of WSU and do not set WSU policy; their job is to provide confidential legal advice to assist WSU officials in making decisions.
Under Washington law, only the Office of the Attorney General is authorized to provide legal advice to state agencies and institutions such as WSU. When needed, the WSU AGO seeks assistance from other divisions of the AGO that specialize in particular subject areas, such as the Labor and Personnel Division and the Torts Division.
If specialized legal help is needed, the WSU AGO will work with you to locate and retain an appropriate attorney. If that person is not an assistant attorney general, he or she will need to be formally designated as a special assistant attorney general in order to advise WSU.
The attorney-client privilege protects certain communications between an attorney and client from disclosure. Thus, communications between WSU personnel and attorneys in the AGO may be confidential and privileged when legal advice is being given regarding issues impacting WSU. Because WSU is the client, not an individual, the AGO may share confidential and privileged information among WSU administrators, including the President and the Regents, as needed.
WSU personnel should treat legal advice given by the AGO as confidential. It should be shared internally only on a “need-to-know” basis and should not be shared externally. It also should be labeled or flagged as confidential whenever possible. A breach of confidentiality could constitute an inadvertent waiver of the attorney-client privilege. Only the Board of Regents has authority to waive the attorney-client privilege on behalf of WSU.
Under Washington law, officers and employees of WSU acting in good faith within the scope of their duties are entitled to defense by the AGO, upon approval by the Regents. WSU has a procedure for personnel to use when requesting defense by the AGO. See WSU BPPM 10.15.
The AGO generally does not provide legal advice to students. However, the AGO may advise students participating on a WSU committee or in an official position, such as ASWSU, if the question pertains to their WSU function.
If you have a legal concern about how a WSU policy or practice applies to you personally, it is best to speak to the appropriate WSU administrator about your concerns. The WSU AGO’s role is limited to providing legal advice to WSU administrators so they can make any necessary policy changes or take other action as deemed necessary.
The AGO does not provide personal legal advice to employees. The Washington State Bar Association may be able to provide a referral to a local attorney who can help you with a personal legal issue. In addition, Human Resource Services, the Office for Equal Opportunity, the Employee Assistance Program, or another WSU office may be able to answer questions that pertain to your situation.
Call the AGO immediately. An attorney will assist you in reviewing the document to determine whether it is valid, whether it was properly served, whether the issuing court or administrative agency has jurisdiction, and how you should respond.