John Graff, a partner in HRW’s education and litigation practice groups, is a nationally recognized higher education attorney with extensive experience advising colleges and universities on matters unique to higher education, including Title IX compliance, investigations and litigation; representation in United States Department of Education Clery Act compliance reviews and OCR investigations; and all matters related to student affairs operations. John also provides operations consulting to campus law enforcement agencies throughout the country concerning all aspects of police operations.
John frequently collaborates with higher education industry trade organizations and clients throughout the country to provide Clery Act, Title IX, and campus law enforcement policy development. In addition, John provides counsel and training to college and university attorneys, administrators, and police officers. In 2014, John’s work on Clery and Title IX matters earned him the honor of being selected to serve on an advisory committee to two delegates from the National Association of College and University Attorneys participating in the federal negotiated rule making process concerning the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (“VAWA”) regulations. Following publication of the VAWA regulations, John served on a committee advising those same delegates regarding updates to the United States Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (2016 Edition).
In addition to his higher education practice, John is an experienced trial attorney, representing clients in non-compete and trade secret disputes, defending against employment claims, litigating fiduciary and probate matters, litigating breach of contract and consumer protection claims, and defending institutions against personal injury claims.
In 2019, John started HRW’s Higher Ground podcast – the only podcast focusing solely on legal issues in higher education. Episodes are available on both iTunes and Spotify.
- Massachusetts, 2005
- United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, 2006
- Suffolk University Law School, J.D., 2005
- Boston University, B.A., 1997
Prior to practicing law and providing private consulting, John was a police officer at Boston University where he worked in various units and was decorated for his service. He is a 1998 graduate of the six-month 29th Municipal Police Officer Class of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee Academy, was later certified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in sexual assault investigation, received training in forensic profiling of serial sexual criminals provided by the Massachusetts State Police in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), was a member of a community policing unit, routinely worked anti-crime (plain clothes) details, and served a rotation in the detective unit.
During law school, John served as an intern in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office where he served in the Family Violence Unit, focusing his work on assisting district attorneys preparing cases for indictment and trial of charges involving sexual assault against adults and minors, and domestic violence between relationship partners or family members.
From 2000 to 2006, John served as the Associate Director of Boston University’s Office of Judicial Affairs where he conducted numerous sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence investigations; contributed to enhancement of investigation techniques and procedure; and assisted the university’s crisis management team.
From December 2009 through August 2010, John served as interim associate general counsel at Emerson College in Boston, and he served three terms as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of College and University Law.
Publications & Appearances
National Association of College and University Attorneys
- Co-presenter, “Campus Unrest: Exploring the Role Between Campus Police and the Social Justice Movement,” NACUA’s 2021 Virtual Spring CLE Workshop
- Co-presenter, “The Role of Police in an Evolving Campus Community,” NACUA’s 2021 Virtual Winter CLE Workshop, February 2021
- Presenter, “Preserving the Peace: Legal Issues Associated with Campus Law Enforcement,” NACUA, December 2019
- Co-presenter, Title IX and Clery: “How to Do More with Less,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2017
- Co-presenter, “Campus Law Enforcement in 2017,” NACUA Virtual Seminar, January 2017
- Co-presenter, “Law Enforcement on Campus: Key Issues in Campus Security,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2016
- Co-presenter, “Things That Go Bump in the Night: Litigation and Hearing Panel Basics,” NACUA’s Sexual Misconduct Continuing Legal Education Workshop, January 2016
- Co-presenter, “Introduction to the Clery Act,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2015
- Panelist, “A Primer in Sexual Violence Training / Programming Panel,” NACUA, June 2015
- Co-author, “Core Principals for Educating Campus Law Enforcement in the Handling of Sexual Violence Investigations under Title IX,” NACUA, June 2015
- Co-author, “Identifying and Training Responsible Employees – Training on the Front Lines,” NACUA, June 2015
- Co-presenter, “The Fundamentals of Clery Act Compliance for Campus Counsel and Administrators,” NACUA Seven-Week Online Course, Summer 2015
- Presenter, “Clery Act Overview,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2014
- Co-presenter, “An Insider’s Guide to the Violence Against Women Act Negotiated Rulemaking: Implementing Changes to the Clery Act,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2014
- Author, “An Insider’s Guide to the Violence Against Women Act Negotiated Rulemaking: Implementing Changes to the Clery Act,” NACUA, June 2014
- Co-presenter, “The Fundamentals of Clery Act Compliance for Campus Counsel and Administrators,” NACUA Seven-Week Online Course, Summer 2013-2015
- Presenter, “The Clery Act: Current Compliance and Enforcement Issues,” NACUA in cooperation with the American Council on Education, September 2012
- Co-presenter, “Surviving a DOE Clery Audit: Advice From Those Who Have Been There,” NACUA Annual Conference, June 2012
University Risk Management and Insurance Association
- Co-presenter, “Identifying and Training Your Campus Security Authorities,” URMIA Virtual Conference, September 2020
- Co-presenter, “Use of Force by Campus Police,” URMIA Annual Conference, September 2017
- Peer Reviewer, “The 2016 Clery Handbook: New Developments and Important Changes,” URMIA Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee Blast (briefing), July 2016
- Instructor, SUNY Student Conduct Institute Module on Relevance and Decorum in Title IX Hearings
- Presenter, “The Clery Act: Keys to Navigating the Compliance Landscape,” Georgia Independent College Association, May 2020
- Presenter, “The Role of Campus Police Departments, Including Relationships with In-House Counsel and the Community,” Boston Bar Association, February 2020
- Co-presenter, “Walking the Tightrope: How to Balance the Rights of the Accuser and Accused During an Investigation,” Title IX ExecuSummit, Annual Conference, July 2017
- Presenter, “Campus Safety & Active Shooter Education,” AICUM Spring Symposium, March 2017
- Co-presenter, Use of Force by Campus Police: Risk Management Lessons,” United Educators’ Virtual Seminar, March 2017
- Co-presenter, “Clery Act Compliance in 2013: Traps for the Unwary in Department of Education Clery Act Audits,” National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Annual Conference, December 2012
- Lead institution counsel in defense of colleges and universities in high profile U.S. Department of Education Title IX and Clery Act investigations
- Lead investigator of allegations of sexual impropriety against members of college board of trustees
- Lead investigator in multiple cases of allegations of sexual harassment, sexual violence, discrimination, and other workplace misconduct for colleges and universities
- Lead trial counsel in defense of wrongful death claim against campus police officers, obtained summary judgment in favor of officers and institution
- Lead consultant to operational team responsible for handling conversion of a contract campus security unit into a fully sworn and armed campus police department
- Lead transaction counsel on $20 million police department merger
- Lead consultant to operations team charged with developing municipal police precinct on higher education campus
- Public relations advisor to institution leaders on various media crises related to Title IX complaints against faculty, political relationships, and allegations of crime on campus
- Advised disability services office concerning student request for housing accommodations
- Advised dean of students and academic department chair concerning cross-complaints by faculty member and student regarding student’s alleged sexual harassment of faculty and faculty member’s failure to follow written disciplinary procedures
- Regularly advised college departments concerning data privacy obligations under Family Educational Rights and Privacy (FERPA)
- Defended university hospital in multiple discrimination and wrongful termination suits
- Conducted internal investigation concerning university hospital nurse’s administration of incorrect cancer treatment to two patients
- Conducted internal investigation concerning university hospital employee’s breach of confidential patient files
- Successfully resolved numerous real estate transaction purchase and sale disputes (residential and commercial) through settlement and summary judgment
- Obtained numerous injunctions on behalf of clients suing to enforce trade secret and non-compete obligations
- Member, National Association of College and University Attorneys
- Member, Boston Bar Association, College and University Section
- Member, Massachusetts Bar Association
- Member, American Bar Association
- Recognized in Best Lawyers in America, 2018-present
- Named a 2015 “Up and Coming Lawyer” by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
- Named a “Massachusetts Rising Star” by Super Lawyers, 2008-2012, 2015