Let's cut right to the chase. Must your Title IX attorney be from your state? Absolutely not. If you've been accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX, you need the best Title IX attorney you can find. Where that attorney may be located is irrelevant. What matters is just how much experience they have with Title IX cases.
The stakes are high when it comes to Title IX cases. If you've been accused of any type of sexual misconduct–discrimination, harassment, assault–you're likely facing suspension at a minimum. More probably, the school is going to do its very best to try and expel you.
Not only are the stakes high, but Title IX cases can be incredibly complex. Your case may very well wind up in court, which always involves navigating dense legal procedures. However, it will likely begin with a school investigation and hearing. Schools don't employ the kinds of judicial processes we see so often on television. The rules they use can be even more confusing than those in a court of law. Worse, those rules are often inherently unfair to the accused.
Given just how complex a Title IX defense can be, and considering how much you stand to lose, you don't want to hire just any attorney. You want an attorney who specializes in Title IX cases, understands Title IX law and understands how colleges and universities operate. Your local lawyer won't have that kind of expertise. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to find a qualified Title IX attorney anywhere in your state.
Here's the thing: Title IX is a federal law. Any attorney, from any state, can represent you, no matter where you're from or where you go to school. And a skilled Title IX attorney will be qualified to work on your case no matter where they're based. Since your case likely won't involve local laws, you don't need local expertise. You're far better off looking for someone who knows Title IX inside and out than for someone who just happens to practice law in your neighborhood.
What is Title IX?
First things first. What is Title IX exactly?
Many people are only familiar with Title IX through its impact on sports. That's because Title IX has been used frequently over the last several decades to make sure schools offer as many competitive sports opportunities to women as they offer to men.
Title IX's reach goes much further than sports, though. The federal government passed Title IX legislation in 1972, with the intention of curtailing sexual discrimination and harassment in any federally funded education program. The law encouraged schools to eliminate discrimination and harassment and promised to withhold funding from any that refused to cooperate.
Most colleges and universities have prosecuted sexual misconduct cases using Title IX rules and procedures for many years. In addition, Title IX violations can wind up in federal court if an individual or a group feels a school is not enforcing the law properly. A woman might sue a school if she feels they failed to investigate her case thoroughly. Likewise, a man who believes he was mistreated during a school's judicial process might sue to have the findings overturned and his life restored.
What this means is that, among other skills, an attorney who tackles such a case must be able to move easily between a college campus and a federal courtroom. Title IX attorneys are used to making this shift.
Why are Title IX Cases so Complex?
There are many problems with Title IX, some of which are inherent in the original law itself. For example, at the time the law was enacted, many college and university campuses were openly hostile towards women. The threat of withholding funds to schools with serious harassment problems made sense in that context. In marked contrast, today most schools are bastions of liberality, where feminism is embraced more strongly than perhaps in any other American institution. In this context, those same funding threats have become a sort of litmus test through which a college demonstrates its politically correct credentials.
Even from the beginning, tying investigations and prosecutions to funding was a bad idea, one that encouraged biases against defendants. Schools were to take seriously any and all accusations, no matter how spurious they might be, and were rewarded not for the impartiality of their justice processes but for how often they convicted “offenders.”
However, these problems have only been further complicated because the law has been a moving target since it was initially passed in 1972. Presidential administrations, for instance, often interpret and enforce the law based on their own politics rather than any sort of firm set of guidelines. For example, in 2011, the Obama administration issued a letter lowering the standard of proof in Title IX cases and revising hearing procedures in favor of victims.
Likewise, the Trump administration made headlines in 2020 for overhauling Title IX rules in the opposite direction. Their revisions to the law included curtailing university jurisdictions, narrowing the definition of “harassment,” and providing new protections for defendants. Most legal experts agree these changes didn't go far enough in restoring balance to Title IX, but they were widely applauded as a step in the right direction.
Yet, like all previous Title IX revisions, the Trump changes have not gone unchallenged. Several schools sued the administration in 2020 to prevent the new rules from going into effect. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has promised to investigate ways of rolling back the new guidelines. Most significantly, many schools simply re-wrote their handbooks on how to treat sexual misconduct cases. When Title IX didn't suit them, they investigated and prosecuted these cases using their own set of procedures. In many instances, these procedures give defendants fewer protections than Title IX does.
Ultimately, these changes have made it extremely difficult for students to defend themselves against sexual misconduct charges. The system is unwieldy and hard to navigate. And that isn't even taking into account that many Title IX cases ultimately wind up in court, which involves an entirely different set of procedures. In short, anyone who undertakes a serious Title IX defense must be well-versed in the shifting ground of Title IX law as well as the intricacies of school policies.
The University Justice System
Just what are you facing if you've been accused of sexual misconduct? How will your school treat you?
Again, many schools have now adopted alternative procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct incidents that don't meet current Title IX standards, and these vary from school to school. However, the current Title IX process involves:
- Formal complaint: Each college and university have a Title IX coordinator who deals with allegations of sexual misconduct. This official makes decisions about whether or not to pursue an accusation.
- Advisors: Both parties may choose an advisor, and this advisor may be an attorney. Advisors can participate in any part of the process.
- Investigation: When the coordinator decides to move forward with an accusation, they appoint an investigator. This investigator gathers evidence, including statements from both parties and any witness testimony.
- Report: At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator completes a report on their findings. Both parties have a chance to respond to this report before it is turned over to a hearing committee.
- Hearing: Current Title IX guidelines mandate that a hearing take place. Hearing panels include students, faculty, and administrators who have been specially trained in the university's judicial procedures. The panel reviews all the evidence in the case and hears from all relevant witnesses. Both the plaintiff and the defendant have the right to cross-examine anyone who appears.
- Decision: At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel deliberates and renders a decision as to whether or not the defendant is “responsible” for the incident.
- Appeal: Either side may appeal the panel's decision to the provost or president. However, appeals may only be filed under very narrow circumstances, including:
- The demonstration of clear bias on the part of the investigator or panel members
- Obvious mistakes in procedure
- New evidence
If the outcome of a hearing is expulsion, that usually comes with a transcript notation about the nature of the offense. A notation like that means you'll find it difficult, if not impossible, to enroll anywhere else. Your academic career will essentially be over, and that has serious implications for your ability to find employment.
With so much at stake, it's crucial that you look for a Title IX attorney and don't limit your options to nearby lawyers. You need the very best representation you can find.
What Kinds of Things Will the School Do?
For a variety of different reasons, schools rarely get justice right in Title IX cases.
To be fair, American colleges and universities are under enormous pressure to investigate and prosecute sexual misconduct cases aggressively, frankly more aggressively than they should. Not only does the federal government exert pressure, but local communities and society at large have become rabid over the last several years about victim justice. In the current “Me too” climate, if a single student should complain of mistreatment, a school can quickly find itself on CNN trying to defend its reputation. No school wants to face that situation, and they'll do anything – including denying defendants their rights – to avoid it.
Schools get it wrong for other reasons as well. The simplest of these is that they simply aren't equipped to handle the serious legal issues that a sexual misconduct case can often generate. Liberal-leaning professors have a laudable desire to make sure women are treated fairly by society. In their zeal to defend this principle, however, they sometimes forget that our American system of laws says defendants' rights should be protected just as zealously.
School officials with little real law enforcement training are tasked with investigating incidents. A school's justice procedures are crafted by faculty who may be experts in physics but have little to no sense of American jurisprudence. A hearing panel made up of faculty and students is ill-equipped to render proper justice.
Given this state of affairs, it isn't surprising that schools get it wrong more often than they get it right. A 2015 study by United Educators found that more than a quarter of Title IX claims wound up being challenged by lawsuits in federal court or formal complaints to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It isn't unusual, for instance, for the school's investigator to refuse to hear testimony from witnesses for the accused. Sometimes the bias can be even more apparent. In a case involving the University of Mississippi, a court discovered that some of the school's Title IX training materials noted that when an accuser lies, those lies “should be considered a side effect of an assault.”
Your school may try to convince you it is on your side or will be objective in investigating and deciding the case. Don't believe them. They will try to get you to admit to things you didn't do. They may threaten you with suspension to get you to say more than you should. They might try to suspend you anyway while they investigate the case. They may even try to convince you don't need to hire an attorney. All of these tactics are designed to help them convict you because in today's environment they are far better off if they can prove you're guilty. You need an attorney who knows what to expect and how to stand up to this kind of intimidation.
How Can an Attorney Help?
What can an attorney do for you if you've been accused of sexual misconduct? Title IX attorneys play multiple roles in such cases.
First, almost all colleges and universities allow an accused student to appoint an advisor, and that advisor can and should be an attorney. As your advisor, your Title IX attorney can help guide you through the investigation and the complicated judicial procedures at your school. They can advise you of your rights and make sure you don't make any missteps when explaining your side of the story. They can help ensure the school maintains your anonymity.
Assuming your school prosecutes you under Title IX guidelines, your attorney can also represent you at hearings, developing your legal strategy, speaking on your behalf, and questioning witnesses in the case.
As they represent you during the school's proceedings, your attorney will also serve another vital function. They will keep meticulous records of your treatment so that if you're found responsible you will already have a sizable case file listing any instances in which the school violated your rights. This record can then serve as the basis of a federal appeal.
Should you need to file such an appeal, your Title IX attorney shifts gears once again, serving as your attorney of record throughout the case. A qualified Title IX attorney will know Title IX law inside and out and how to craft a lawsuit to overturn your conviction and get you the rights and compensation you deserve. They will represent you at all depositions, speak for you in court, even help you with additional matters such as restoring your reputation.
Who Do You Hire?
Who do you hire to take care of you in a stressful, complex case like this?
You don't simply hire a local family attorney. Family lawyers serve a valuable function in our legal system. They can be great for advising you about estates and wills or representing you in a traffic accident. However, they simply don't have the background and experience to handle a Title IX case.
A local criminal defense attorney is also not the appropriate choice to handle your Title IX case. Defending criminal defendants in a court of law does not equate to having the necessary experience in a Title IX case. The Title IX disciplinary process is a completely different battlefield.
What you want is a Title IX attorney, someone who specializes in these very particular types of cases. Title IX attorneys understand Title IX law. They know the history of the law, and they are up to date on the most recent changes. They even keep track of the political climate and how it may impact the implementation of the law. They know exactly what to look for in terms of your school's mistakes and how to safeguard your rights.
Whether or not a case winds up in federal court, though, a Title IX attorney can be invaluable in getting you through the school's judicial process. They understand how universities operate and know what will happen to you every step of the way. They can guide you through difficult interviews and help you prepare evidence so your side of the story comes across clearly.
In short, you don't just need any attorney; you need a Title IX attorney.
It turns out, that attorney doesn't have to be from your particular state or from the state where you're going to school. Any attorney, from anywhere across the country, can represent you. Local attorneys are great when you're dealing with local issues. Typically, they are experts in state law, which can be helpful if you're facing state charges. However, Title IX is a federal law. Fighting a Title IX case isn't about expertise in the particular nuances of your state laws but rather about expertise in the particulars of the Title IX law itself.
When hiring an attorney in such a case, the key questions you should ask have nothing to do with geography. Instead, you should ask:
- What kind of experience does the lawyer have with Title IX cases?
- How many Title IX cases has the lawyer has handled?
- What kind of success rate do they have with Title IX cases?
Even if they're on the other side of the country from where you happen to be, the lawyer who has the correct answers to these questions is the lawyer you want representing you.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Knows Title IX Cases
Regardless of the state you happen to live in, if you've been accused of sexual misconduct, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Attorney Lento has all the right answers to those key questions. He's handled hundreds of Title IX cases across the United States. In fact, he built his career defending students just like you. Attorney Lento knows the law, he knows the academic landscape, and he knows how to craft the right strategy to get you the outcome you deserve.
First and foremost, Attorney Lento is concerned about your rights. He knows that schools will do everything they can to put you at a disadvantage, including denying you your due process rights. He will fight to make sure this doesn't happen. But he'll also be there if it does, taking notes on the school's mistakes, addressing such concerns at the school level accordingly, and preparing a strategy for getting their decision overturned in an actual court of law when necessary.
Perhaps most importantly, Joseph D. Lento cares about your case. He is passionate about Title IX and how it has been used and abused over its nearly fifty-year history. He believes in protecting students just like you from falling victim to this abuse. He will stand beside you from beginning to end. Joseph D. Lento is empathetic and ready to help.
If you've been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to see what may happen. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.