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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP

Can a Lawyer Help with a Campus Title IX Proceeding?

Title IX campus proceedings run according to policies set by the individual college or university. Federal law requires schools to permit a complainant or respondent to have a lawyer as an advisor in Title IX cases. There may be cases with the same facts, such as alleged sexual assault occurring in an off-campus student’s dorm, that are handled in a student conduct process, similar to the Title IX process. Many times, those student conduct policies do not allow students or staff to be represented by an attorney during a hearing on campus. Sometimes, it is better for a school not to know that a student has an attorney.  Unfortunately, people believe that means an attorney cannot help them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The right legal advice and guidance can make all the difference in the outcome of a student conduct and Title IX proceeding. Working with a lawyer who understands campus disciplinary proceedings and the nuances of Title IX requirements can ensure that your rights are protected and provide fair opportunities for your story to be heard so you can reach a positive outcome in your case.

Title IX Proceedings Move Much Faster Than Court Cases

A civil or criminal court case can take years to complete. Campus Title IX and student conduct proceedings move at a much faster pace, so it is wise to seek legal advice as soon as allegations arise, even if a formal complaint has not been filed. A student or staff member accused of a Title IX violation or student conduct violation may be expected to meet with an investigator or provide a written response very soon after a complainant takes action. Whatever is said in response to the complaint will be scrutinized in detail. Before saying anything, the respondent should obtain legal advice from an attorney who has had the chance to review the situation.

The sooner the respondent reaches out for legal help, the more time the attorney has to develop a strategy and help formulate the appropriate response. While the attorney may not be permitted to speak to the investigator on behalf of the respondent, they can help compose a statement and answers to anticipated questions. This can prevent the respondent from unintentionally forfeiting legal rights or making a statement that could be used against them.

Students filing complaints should also seek legal advice as early as possible. An attorney can help ensure that the complaint is phrased in a way that raises legitimate Title IX concerns and will receive the consideration it deserves. A legal advisor can also work to protect the privacy and other rights of the complainant.

The Stakes are High

Title IX and student conduct allegations usually raise the potential for serious sanctions that can affect respondents for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is critical to take accusations seriously and prepare to respond strategically. The penalties remain on a student’s record and can prevent them from pursuing further education, obtaining certain jobs, and even gaining certifications or joining professional organizations. The sanctions for a Title IX violation also come with a social stigma that can haunt someone permanently.

Students filing Title IX complaints act in response to situations with emotionally devastating consequences. That means that both complainants and respondents deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and diligence during Title IX proceedings. Working with a committed legal advocate can ensure they receive appropriate consideration and that their rights are fully protected.

Education to Protect the Rights of Complainants and Respondents

Because an attorney working on a Title IX campus proceeding is often not permitted to speak directly on behalf of a complainant or respondent, lawyers spend extra time working with their clients to ensure they understand the issues at stake and the rules that apply. They help clients comprehend key definitions so they can answer questions asked by investigators. For instance, if a Title IX sexual misconduct case hinges on the issue of consent in an episode where students were drinking, an attorney can ensure that a client understands:

  • How the school policies define consent
  • Situations where someone specifically cannot give legal consent
  • The difference between incapacity and intoxication
  • How available evidence supports their version of events
  • How to explain any discrepancies in evidence that do not support their version of events

Throughout the process, the attorney enables the client to provide informed and deliberate answers to questions posed by investigators. If a student rushes into an interview unprepared, they often do not understand how their statements will be interpreted according to the school’s standards and the ramifications of their statements. Once something is said, it cannot be unsaid. An ounce of prevention may be the only effective way to protect a student’s interests in a Title IX case.

Problems with a Notice of Charge

Most students have at least some due process rights or other types of rights when facing disciplinary proceedings involving a Title IX violation. Their actual rights can vary depending on the political regime and court interpretations. However, one of the most basic protected rights is the right to receive a written notice of the charges being made against the respondent. This is often referred to as a Notice of Charge.

If the Notice of Charge is too vague or lacks information that should be included, the respondent accused of a violation cannot prepare to answer questions about the charges. For that reason, an attorney should be able to ask that the Notice of Charge be more specific or include additional information. Greater specificity can make it easier to defend against allegations, and it will certainly give students more information about the allegations raised against them.

A Lawyer Can Protect Your Future During Campus Title IX Proceedings

Attorneys play a valuable role in court proceedings, but their services can be even more valuable out of court. In Title IX cases, they understand the requirements schools must follow and can help students and staff pursue remedies when their college or university fails to live up to the rules. They also help claimants and respondents understand and protect their rights so they can receive a fair outcome in a Title IX campus proceeding.

It is far too easy for students who do not understand their rights to lose them for good. Yet, future opportunities and reputation are on the line in a Title IX case. To get help from the experienced team at Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP,  contact us for a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can put our knowledge to work for you.