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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

Choosing a Campus Advisor for a Title IX Proceeding

Whether you are the complainant or the respondent in a Title IX campus proceeding, you are entitled to work with an advisor, who can be a lawyer. Your advisor can provide support on all levels, so choosing an advisor who will furnish this essential support for your particular case is important.

How do you select the right advisor for such an important and traumatic undertaking? Can you have more than one advisor? Does your advisor need legal training? Do they have to have a connection to the campus? Students and their families have many questions.

While the requirements and restrictions applicable to advisors in Title IX disciplinary actions could change in response to regulatory amendments and judicial interpretations, we can offer some general guidelines to consider when choosing an advisor for Title IX proceedings if you are alleging a violation or defending against accusations.

Title IX Regulations Do Not Set Many Qualification Standards for Advisors

Regulations implementing Title IX require colleges to offer the use of an advisor during proceedings, but they do not require students to use one in most cases. The one exception is in the case of a live hearing. Colleges must provide an advisor to conduct cross-examination. Any student who wishes to cross-examine the other party or witnesses may not personally handle the cross-examination but must have their advisor undertake it.

The regulations currently allow a student to use an attorney as their advisor, but they do not require the advisor to be a lawyer or have any legal training. In fact, the regulations do not require an advisor to have any special training or knowledge.

Title IX regulations also do not obligate a student to use the same advisor throughout the process. Therefore, while a student may generally only have one official advisor at a time, that advisor can change.

Family Members May Not Be the Best Choice for the Role

Your parents and family members may know you and love you better than anyone else. They may be willing to sacrifice everything for your happiness. They may feel the pain of this ordeal as intensely as you do. And that is why they are probably not the best choice to serve as your advisor during a Title IX proceeding.

You need an advisor who can look at matters from a dispassionate perspective. However, this does not mean he or she must have a neutral perspective by any means. Your advisor should be focused on your best interests. But you need someone who is thinking clearly and rationally to help you strategize for a successful outcome. If your advisor reacts with strong emotions and emulates your outrage and frustration, they are not providing much assistance. They may make you feel better, but they may also increase your feelings of stress and depression. In most cases, a parent or other family member is too connected emotionally to provide the help you need at this critical time.

The Role of an Advisor

There may be some instances where your advisor can advocate directly on your behalf. If that is an option, then an attorney or other professional advocate can prove invaluable.

In many cases, your advisor will not be able to speak for you but will sit with you during proceedings. Your advisor should be someone you can count on to take accurate and thorough notes during meetings and other events. Your advisor should understand what is going on during meetings and the hearing and know how to evaluate your opportunities and develop responses that put you in the best position moving forward.

An advisor in a Title IX hearing should be a champion ready to back you up at all times. You should be comfortable with them—and confident that they are on your side and that they care about you.

What to Look for in an Advisor

Your college may have given you a list of advisors or may offer to find you an advisor. You may also know some people who you’ve considered as potential advisors. As you consider possible candidates, keep a few factors in mind, particularly if the person you are thinking of has a connection to the college.

Choose Someone Independent

Your advisor should not be put in a position where they have a conflict of interest. You need someone who is not dependent on the college’s good opinion of them. For instance, you might be able to ask a tenured professor to serve as your advisor. They may feel that they are in a position secure enough not to have to worry whether the school agrees with everything they say and do. 

However, a professor who is working toward tenure might feel very differently. Their ability to help you may be compromised by a fear of jeopardizing their own career. They might worry more about saying something that could upset an administrator than protecting your rights and interests.

Choose Someone Committed to Confidentiality and Support

You want an advisor who is willing to keep your information confidential. If you work with an attorney or certain other professionals, they are bound by ethical considerations to maintain confidentiality and work in your best interests.

However, others may not feel obligated to keep communications confidential. They may also start to experience discomfort with supporting you if the tide of public opinion on campus turns against you. That being the case, these are not the types of individuals you want serving as your advisor. Therefore, you may want to ask the person you are considering if they will sign a confidentiality agreement and use their reaction to gauge their willingness to serve.

Choose Someone Who is Intelligent and Experienced

Your advisor should be able to understand complex proceedings and how your choices can affect the outcome of those proceedings. You need someone who is smart and can analyze and strategize your next steps.

However, intellectual capacity alone is not enough. Your advisor should also be someone experienced in Title IX disciplinary proceedings. The process moves quickly, and however intelligent your advisor may be, they don’t have time to reinvent the wheel and learn the process from scratch. 

If your potential advisor had a two-hour training session in Title IX, chances are that they absorbed enough to understand how complex the issues can be but not enough to understand the nuances that affect the outcomes or how to take advantage of available opportunities to develop an advantage or overcome a hurdle in your case. On the other hand, if you have an advisor who has guided others through proceedings successfully, that experience can prove invaluable to reaching your own positive outcome.

Why Lawyers Often Make the Best Advisors

Admittedly we are biased because we are lawyers. But our experience bears out the logic: Seasoned lawyers usually make excellent advisors in Title IX cases. Why? Attorneys understand how to collect and present evidence to make a point. They understand how to construct logical arguments that prove their assertions. They know how to counter arguments and question witnesses. 

They also recognize when the other side is out of line and is infringing on their client’s rights or allowing the proceedings to become unfairly biased. For instance, if someone tries to suggest that a campus police officer should be allowed to give their opinion as an expert in judging the truth of a witness just because that officer has spent years listening to students, an attorney would recognize that the campus officer is not qualified to give an expert opinion and they could request an end to the line of questioning.

Of course, the best advisor would be an attorney who understands how to manage hearings and is experienced with the intricacies of Title IX cases. As time goes on, this area of law becomes even more complex. An outcome may hinge on a very fine distinction, and when your advisor knows how to make that distinction, you can benefit significantly from that experience.

Consult a Title IX Attorney Before Choosing Your Advisor for a Title IX Proceeding

Not everyone can afford to have an attorney by their side for an extended period of time. At the very least, however, it can be helpful to meet with an attorney to gain guidance on how to proceed and choose the right advisor to help during your case.

Title IX proceedings affect not only your student career but your opportunities for years to come. Therefore, ensuring that your side of the story receives a fair hearing and consideration is vitally important. It is equally important to ensure that your rights are protected. It may seem like the world is against you at times, so you deserve an advisor who will always support you.

At Duffy Law, we firmly believe in the power of Title IX action to bring about positive change in the world. Still, we also understand that these powerful legal rules can cause tremendous harm when applied incorrectly. We stand up for the rights of students in all situations. For a confidential consultation to find out how we can help in your situation, contact us now.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.