At a congressional hearing Tuesday, leaders from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave carefully worded—and seemingly evasive—answers to the question of whether they would discipline students who called for the genocide of Jews. The intense criticism that followed led many to ask: who had prepared them to bear witness?

It turns out that one of the best-known law firms in the United States, WilmerHale, was involved in the matter.

Two of the school’s presidents, Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn, prepared separately for congressional testimony with equipment from WilmerHale, according to two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the preparation process It is confidential.

WilmerHale also met with MIT President Sally Kornbluth, one of the people said.

On Saturday, Magill resigned as Penn president after the fallout from her congressional testimony became overwhelming.

WilmerHale, created through the 2004 merger between Wilmer Cutler Pickering of Washington and Hale and Dorr of Boston, has offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. He is best known in the legal industry for defending clients facing government investigations and enforcement. Among its best-known clients are oil giant BP PLC, which the law firm represented during government investigations following an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and President Richard Nixon, whom it represented in his fight with Congress. for the Watergate tapes.

He also has extensive practice working with universities.

WilmerHale’s attorneys sat front row at Tuesday’s hearing. Among them were Alyssa DaCunha, who leads the firm’s congressional investigations and crisis management practices, and Felicia Ellsworth, vice president of the firm’s litigation and disputes department.

Both DaCunha and Ellsworth were involved in preparing the Harvard and Penn presidents for the hearings, a person familiar with the process said. Each of the schools independently hired WilmerHale, and the company created separate teams to prepare each president. The company already had ties to all three schools.

A company spokeswoman declined to comment.

Preparing for congressional testimony involves combining legal caution with political astuteness and common sense, legal experts say. Lawyers often advise those testifying to keep the law in mind, but also consider the headlines that might emerge from the hearing. That can be a difficult task after hours of intense interrogations.

“I became caught up in what had become at that point a lengthy and combative exchange about policies and procedures,” Dr. Gay told The Harvard Crimson.

Steven Davidoff Solomon, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, said the university presidents seemed “prepared to give answers in court, rather than in a public forum.”

But the responsibility of university presidents, Solomon said, is “not to give legal answers, but to give the vision of the university.”

In one of the most charged moments of testimony, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, asked the three presidents whether calls for violence against Jews would violate their school’s code of conduct.

MIT’s Dr. Kornbluth responded that they could do so, “if they are directed at individuals, without making public statements.” Penn’s Magill said a call for violence against Jews could be considered a violation “if it’s targeted and severe, widespread, it’s harassment.” When pressed to answer yes or no, she responded, “it’s a context-dependent decision.” And Harvard’s Dr. Gay responded, “It may be, depending on the context.”

The responses immediately triggered an avalanche of criticism. A House committee opened an investigation into the three institutions, and a donor recovered a large donation to Penn. A day after Wharton’s board of advisors called for Magill to resign, Wharton’s university executive board issued a statement Friday supporting the leadership change.

Critics said the answers seemed too focused on whether conduct would violate the First Amendment.

“Once they were in that box, I think they continued their preparation,” said Edward Rock, a law professor at New York University. “That’s why they seemed so rigid. And then they realized it was a terrible answer.”

Dr. Gay of Harvard made a clarification on Wednesday: “Let me be clear: calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group, are vile. “They have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held accountable.”

Ms. Magill of Penn said in a video: “I did not focus, but should have, on the irrefutable fact that a call for the genocide of the Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence that human beings can perpetrate.” ”.