Perspectiva General

James B. Thelen is a seasoned labor and employment lawyer who has worked both in private practice and as general counsel or chief legal officer at public and private higher education institutions. He is an experienced legal and executive strategist who helps large public and private institutions understand how labor and employment practices and legal risk impact long-term institutional strategy and performance.

Before joining Littler in April 2023, Jim was a higher education consultant and also general counsel and chief legal officer for seven years at the University of Maine System, a statewide system of seven public universities, where he also served as Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Chief of Staff. Jim also served as Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel for four years at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a private nonprofit law school in Michigan. Earlier in his career he worked as an assistant general counsel and lobbyist for Western Michigan University, a regional public university in the Midwest. His higher ed legal and executive experience includes overseeing and advising on HR and labor relations, executive employment performance management, strategic risk management, and litigation defense.

Jim provides legal advice and counsel and represents higher education institutions and other entities in state and federal labor relations matters and administrative hearings; union campaigns and representation, collective bargaining, grievance administration and arbitrations; labor and employment strategy and risk assessment; university partnerships, collaborations, mergers, reorganizations, and right-sizing; executive employment performance management; strategic and long-term planning; and board governance matters.

Previously, Jim also worked in private practice at a large law firm in Michigan, providing advice and counsel to public and private entities, including a number of colleges and universities, on employment practices, labor relations, collective bargaining and union avoidance, litigation defense of employment claims, and general employment-related business practices and strategy.

Afiliaciones Profesionales y Comunitarias


NACUA Committee on Strategic Planning



Society for Human Resource Management



President 2009-2010

HR Management Association of Mid-Michigan



Named, Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers in America


Named, Rising Star


Super Lawyers


Named, Up and Coming, America’s Leading Business Lawyers

Chambers USA


Libros & Capítulos

  • Family & Medical Leave and the Law, New York: ALM/Law Journal Press, 2012
  • Employment Law Handbook: Guide for Michigan Employers, Lansing, MI: Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Editor, 2003-2011; Coeditor, 1996-2000

Speaking Engagements

Employment Law in Higher Education: Title IX, Professor/Student Interactions, Tenure, Application of Labor Laws

Strafford Webinar

May 16, 2023

The Digital-Led University: A Technology-Enabled Future for Higher Education

Co-Moderator, CGI Webinar

September 2022

Craft and Communicate an Effective Free Speech Policy: Preparing for the 2020 Election

Student Affairs Forum, Educational Advisory Board Webinar

February 2020

Management of a Small Office of General Counsel: Wearing Two Hats – Chief of Staff and General Counsel

General Counsel Institute, NACUA, New Orleans, LA

February 2019


  • J.D., Tulane University Law School, 1995cum laude
  • B.A., Western Michigan University, 1992magna cum laude

Admisión de la barra



  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, District of Maine
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan
  • U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan