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 i