Academic Norms and Customs

Undergraduate Student Avoids Dismissal After Retaining School Defense Counsel

Disciplinary officials for an undergraduate English program at a large Midwestern private university notified a junior student of academic misconduct charges involving alleged plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration. On the recommendation of a fellow student whom local police had charged with a minor-in-possession alcohol offense, the student retained a local criminal defense attorney to defend the academic misconduct charges. The local criminal attorney demanded a full hearing and the right to attend and cross-examine the involved instructor. The disciplinary officials refused and instead scheduled the informal resolution conference for which school procedures provided while notifying the student that the officials would not permit the local criminal attorney to attend. Concerned that she had retained unqualified counsel, the student contacted and retained the Lento Law Firm. The law firm worked closely with the student to prepare a thorough and fully documented presentation for the student to make at the upcoming conference. The law firm also notified the disciplinary officials that the student would attend prepared to explain and document her defense but that, in the meantime, the student was interested in training on proper citation to avoid plagiarism. The law firm's diplomatic communication respecting the program's customs and procedures, and the presentation it helped the student organize and document, contributed to a favorable resolution involving no discipline. The key to success was the law firm's ability to recognize and respect the disciplinary officials' academic customs and procedures.

Disabled Student Obtains Accommodations After Counsel Intervenes to Restore Communications

The disability accommodations director for a Southeastern public university's graduate programs denied an MBA student's request for accommodations. The student had requested five significant accommodations for a learning disability. The director's response offered two accommodations but indicated a need for further documentation to support the remaining accommodations, the substantial cost and potential unavailability of those remaining accommodations, and questions over whether alternative accommodations would suffice. On the uninformed and offhand advice of local criminal defense counsel, the student refused to reply to the director in any manner other than to reiterate her demand. When the director remained steadfast, the student retained the Lento Law Firm. Aware that federal disability laws encouraged a flexible, interactive approach to negotiating reasonable accommodations, the law firm drafted a sensitive and thoughtful reply for the student to consider. The reply asked for the director to meet with the student and a law firm representative to discuss the needed additional documentation, potential local providers for that documentation, and alternative services. Now informed of the laws regarding this interactive process, the student accepted the law firm's recommendation and authorized the reply. The meeting led the student to get additional documentation at no cost from a local service provider. The student also accepted that the university's alternative accommodations would not only suffice but could be better than the accommodations the student had demanded. The student and director agreed to move forward on the understanding that both sides could adjust the accommodations in the future as needed. The key to success was the law firm's diplomatic approach recognizing the custom for flexible interaction.

Undergraduate Student Avoids Title IX Dismissal After Early Resolution Intervention

The Title IX coordinator for a small private Central States college notified an undergraduate student in the college's general education program that another student had complained of the student's sexual misconduct. The coordinator's notice did not describe any specific wrong, indicating only that the student's conduct had raised some potential concerns. The coordinator requested that the student promptly meets with the coordinator to determine whether the coordinator should take protective action, including barring the student from class or campus. The coordinator's seeming threats and vague and non-specific allegations frightened the student, who initially thought of ignoring the coordinator's notice. But after retaining the Lento Law Firm, the student agreed to meet. After hearing the student's account, the law firm discerned that the probable cause for the vague allegations was that the complainant had probably not alleged sanctionable Title IX misconduct but may instead have expressed sufficient discomfort that the coordinator had committed to doing something about the situation. The law firm prepared the student to present a factual, accurate, and balanced account without admitting to anything the student hadn't done and without agreeing to any sanction without further proceedings, including formal hearing. The law firm also helped the student organize documentation and summarize a timeline to ensure an accurate and detailed account confirming no misconduct. The student's presentation, including the student's disclosure that the law firm's counsel had greatly helped, carried the day at the meeting. The reassured coordinator dismissed the charge on the student's reassurance that the student intended to avoid further contact with the complainant, as the complainant also preferred. The key to success was the law firm's ability to shift the student's focus from fear to a reasoned and balanced approach in the manner that the coordinator expected.

High School Student Avoids Alternative Placement After Counsel Intervenes in Resolution Conference

The principal of a large rural Northeast high school suspended a varsity athlete for threats and fighting while telling the student's parents that the principal preferred that the student transfer to the district's alternative high school. The parents initially consulted local criminal defense counsel, who advised litigation over the student's disability rights. But concerned that litigation would take too long for the student to return to school to continue in athletics and academics, the parents retained the Lento Law Firm. The law firm first confirmed that the student was not in school under an individualized education plan (IEP) but might qualify for the school forming such a plan. The law firm then communicated with the district's counsel to propose an IEP team review and meeting. The law firm further proposed to the district's counsel that the principal reinstate the student with conditions because the misconduct incident had arisen out of student-athlete disagreements that the suspended student and athletic coaches had promptly resolved. The law firm's sensitive proposals addressing both the student's interests and the school's concerns were the key to an early voluntary resolution of the charges. The student returned to school, qualified for an IEP that would tend to reduce the student's social challenges, and continued in studies and athletics toward graduation.

Fraternity Leader Avoids Dismissal After Retained Counsel Negotiates Conditions

A large public university in a Deep South state notified the leader of an on-campus fraternity of misconduct charges relating to the fraternity's conduct of loud parties at which the fraternity made alcohol available to minors. The allegations included that the fraternity's members may have engaged in hazing and may have created a riotous and unsafe environment encouraging disorderly and disruptive conduct. The fraternity leader, a vocal campus advocate, initially consulted local criminal defense counsel, preparing to make a public cause of the fraternity's ostensible right to continue its traditionally boisterous but largely harmless practices. But on the advice of the fraternity leader's parents, the fraternity leader instead retained the Lento Law Firm. The law firm discerned that the fraternity may indeed have engaged only in its traditionally harmless practices, to which the university had formerly looked the other way. But the law firm also confirmed that the university had periodically served similar misconduct notices in prior years, each time resolving the charges with dismissal after the fraternity had agreed to conditions. The law firm encouraged the fraternity leader in a conciliatory approach to the charges that reduced the leader's risk of school discipline while recognizing the university's authority and respecting the disciplinary officials' responsibility. The law firm's representative made multiple conciliatory communications and proposals to the university in the matter, paving the way for a resolution