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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

What Your Lawyer Should Be Asking About Your Title IX Case

You probably have many questions for an attorney if you are filing or responding to a complaint in a Title IX case. Those questions are important, and you should never be shy about asking.

However, you need to be aware that there are some key questions your attorney should be asking you. If they don’t ask, then you need to bring up these topics because they are important to the case and your satisfaction with the outcome.

What Do You Want to Happen?

You would expect your legal counsel in a Title IX case to ask you what happened and seek details about the events leading up to the incident that is the subject of the complaint. That will happen and it will probably happen repeatedly to catch additional details that might otherwise be missed.

However, even before you get to those questions, your attorney should ask what you want to happen now. What is the outcome you hope to achieve? Of course, what you probably want is to turn back the clock so that the incident triggering the complaint never occurred. Your lawyer can’t manage that one, unfortunately. But your legal advocate can work to ensure the best outcome for you going forward. To know what “best” looks like, however, requires some serious thought.

Knowing the Possibilities

Before you can tell your attorney what you want to achieve in the case, you need to know the available options. Your lawyer should be able to review those with you.

If you’ve been accused of sexual assault, for instance, you may want to prove that you were not responsible for the wrongdoing you’ve been accused of. You might want to prove that the alleged actions did not occur or that they were consensual. If this were a criminal proceeding, you would be trying to prove your innocence.

In another type of situation, if you were accused of bullying for instance, you might admit that certain actions occurred but you may want to see a lenient penalty imposed. Your attorney can explain the potential sanctions according to the school’s policy guidelines or past disciplinary actions.

Choosing Your Objectives

After your attorney has explained the options, you can work together to formulate an objective. If you’re filing a complaint based on sexual harassment, you might want to see the respondent expelled so that you never have to face them again. Or you might want a less severe penalty imposed to gain a sense of restorative justice.

Once you tell your legal advisor the result you’d like to see, they can give you a rough idea of whether that is realistic.

Do You Understand Your Motivation?

Knowing what you want is important. Understanding why you want it is also important. The questions involve some deep delving into your psyche, and you need to brace yourself before proceeding. However, others may ask these questions of you in the future, either as part of proceedings or in your life ahead, so you need to be prepared for them.

A respondent might be asked whether they are determined to prove that an incident did not occur as alleged because they don’t want to face the possibility that they could be capable of such an action.  

A complainant might be asked whether they want to see a respondent expelled because they cannot face that person because of what they did or because they want to send a message. They might be asked whether they are trying to get even with the respondent or accusing the respondent in place of another individual who they cannot reach or as a representative of multiple individuals who harmed them in the past.

Understanding your motivation for seeking a result is important to help you reach the best outcome for your future.

What Would You Be Willing to Accept?

This ties into a bigger question—when will the case be over? Both you and your legal team need to share the same level of commitment. If you’re responding to a complaint, you might think a formal apology, sensitivity training, and some form of volunteer service should be sufficient to restore justice. Your attorney might advise you that you are likely to face a more serious penalty. Then you can decide what you would be willing to accept. If a formal disciplinary sanction would be an acceptable outcome but the school imposed a suspension, then you may expect to try strategies to appeal the result.

The same holds true if you’re filing a complaint. Would you accept sanctions that did not go on the respondent’s permanent record? You will have options to appeal, but you should have some idea of when you would be appropriately satisfied with an outcome.

Are You Prepared to Handle the Process and the Aftermath?

Regardless of whether you are the complainant or the respondent, your path forward through a Title IX case will be fraught with challenges. The sense of justice you look forward to at the end can make up for the difficulty you must endure, but you should be prepared to face uncomfortable days ahead.

Your lawyer should explain what to expect at various stages of the proceedings. In addition, your attorney should warn you against taking certain steps such as contacting people involved to explain your side or posting your feelings about the case on social media.

As you discuss the potential outcomes, you should also understand the stages that could come next if either party decides to appeal the outcome. Finally, you should be aware that the case is likely to have long-term impacts regardless of the results and that you may need to take steps to provide for self-care and provide the best protection for future opportunities. It is not necessary to go into all the details of the “what-ifs” right away, but know that you will always have options, even if they are not the options you once would have chosen.

What Do You Think the Other Side Wants?

Figuring out what you want from a case and why you want it takes considerable discernment. Once you’ve delved deep inside yourself, you get to try the process again from someone else’s perspective.

To achieve the best results for you in your Title IX case, your attorney will want to know what you think the other side wants and why they want it. Your lawyer will have their own theories and will get ideas from others. However, they should also want to know what you think are the factors motivating the other party in the case.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

It’s easy to come up with a gut reaction. But before leaning too far in that direction, stop yourself and try to put yourself in the position of the other party. What do they think happened? Did they interpret things differently? Why might that be the case? What are some critical assumptions you made and could they (reasonably or not) have made other assumptions?

You might know the person on the other side of the case very well. You might only have met them in a brief encounter. Either way, you have a unique perspective on these questions that no one else can match. Try to relive events standing in the other person’s shoes and then think about how they feel and why.

Review History

Go back through past encounters and conversations. What do you know about this person’s expectations? Do you think they expected to reach a goal that remained elusive? Did they say something that didn’t strike you at the time but that may provide a clue now? Go back over interactions in your mind and make notes.

Coordinate with Your Attorney

After you’ve put some consideration into the motivations and goals of the other side, then you should discuss those with your attorney. Together, you can anticipate what could happen in the case, and knowing the outcomes the other side hopes to achieve allows your legal advisor to develop a plan to best support and protect your interests.

Work with an Attorney Who Knows How to Ask the Right Questions

Title IX cases are complex for numerous reasons. The legal issues revolve around subtle details as well as regulatory interpretations that have been changing at a frantic pace in recent years. At the same time, procedural issues often hinge on policies that vary from institution to institution. To be effective, a Title IX attorney has to stay on top of these issues and monitor the personal factors motivating the parties involved in the case.

At Duffy Law, we are dedicated to seeing justice served in Title IX cases, and we have the experience and the acumen to achieve the best available outcomes for our clients. To find out how we can help—and the questions we would ask in your case– contact us today for a confidential consultation.

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.