Misconduct Issues at Columbia Law School

The prestigious Ivy-League Columbia Law School, located on Columbia University's campus in New York's Manhattan borough, offers the traditional Juris Doctor degree along with several other graduate degrees in law. Those degrees cover about a dozen traditional fields like corporate law and litigation, along with several non-traditional fields, including data analytics and sexuality. Most Columbia Law students live in the university's graduate student housing, pre-war apartment buildings near the campus.

A Law Student's Character-and-Fitness Challenge

As prestigious as Columbia Law is, among the nation's leading law schools, and as exciting as studying law in a world financial and business center can be, law students well know that not everything about studying law is idyllic. Law students at Columbia Law School, like law students at other schools, face misconduct issues common to graduate programs in medicine, accounting, engineering, and other fields. Common issues, many of them serious enough to warrant discipline up to dismissal, include academic-misconduct charges alleging things like cheating or plagiarism and other ethical issues showing a disregard for professional norms.

Yet law students at Columbia and elsewhere also face peculiar issues. The peculiar issues for law students have to do with character-and-fitness requirements for law practice. Earning a law degree is only a first step toward a career in law. The critical step of qualifying for licensure requires not just passing a bar exam but also proving character and fitness to practice law. Character and fitness include the student's conduct while earning a law degree. Make no mistake: law-student misconduct can prevent licensure when the misconduct shows unfitness or bad character for law practice.

The character and fitness requirement of law licensure significantly raises the stakes for Columbia Law School students. Those stakes are high when facing academic-misconduct charges that could prevent completing the degree program. But the stakes are also high around allegations of misconduct that suggest disrespect for the law or its procedures. An accumulation of small things, like ignoring fines for frequent university-parking violations or failing to disclose accurate information on a law-school application, can interfere with licensure. Read more detail here about law-student issues.

Columbia Law School's Conduct Policies

Columbia Law School's policies address both the common and uncommon conduct issues that law students face. Columbia Law's procedural preamble states the following several sources for the standards against which Columbia University or the law school may charge a law student with misconduct:

  • the law that law students study;
  • the rules of professional discipline for membership in the bar;
  • Columbia University conduct rules including those prohibiting disruption of classes and discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, sexual orientation, or veteran status;
  • Columbia Law's rules for the Juris Doctor degree;
  • Columbia Law's procedures for resolving misconduct charges, imposing obligations of cooperation, truthfulness, and confidentiality; and
  • law professors' inherent authority to assure honesty, civility, decency, integrity, and responsibility.

Columbia Law's rules for the Juris Doctor degree begin with general regulations that make law students subject to Columbia University's student-conduct policies. Columbia Law's general regulations also require class attendance and preparation, attentive behavior, and appropriate attire, and prohibit eating, drinking, and smoking in classrooms. Columbia University's student-conduct policies, typical of other college and university conduct policies, address not only academic issues like bribery, cheating, plagiarism, and sabotage, but also behavioral issues such as trespassing, hazing, harassment, and weapons.

Columbia Law's academic rules require certification that written work is the student's own, that the student has acknowledged other sources, that the student engaged in no falsification or misrepresentation of data, and that the student disclosed any collaboration that the instructor had not authorized. Columbia Law's academic rules also require adhering to the law faculty's resolution on academic honesty prohibiting:

  • plagiarism;
  • self-plagiarism, defined as submitting the same work in any two exercises for credit without instructor permission;
  • submitting another's work as one's own;
  • cheating;
  • violating instructions;
  • falsification or misrepresentation of data for credit;
  • impermissible collaboration;
  • removing, hiding, or altering library materials;
  • stealing another person's materials; and
  • facilitating academic dishonesty by another.

Columbia Law School's Misconduct Procedures

Columbia Law School, like other law schools, maintains elaborate procedures for resolving student-misconduct charges. Because law schools train their students in legal procedures, they tend to offer well-developed and clear procedures for dispute resolution. Columbia Law is no exception. Although Columbia's procedures guide the resolution of charges, their preamble reminds students that the procedures also “impose and imply obligations of cooperation, truthfulness, the maintenance of confidentiality, and acceptance of final outcome….” A student's misstep in procedure, such as misleading the tribunal, could constitute its own grounds for discipline.

Columbia Law's procedures divide offenses into major and minor classes, each having its own set of procedures. Columbia Law resolves minor offenses by an informal procedure that begins with the dean appointing a tribunal of faculty or administrators to investigate and hear the charges. While the tribunal must hear the accused student after informing the student of the charges, the tribunal may otherwise resolve the charges as it deems appropriate, the tribunal having no authority to make any finding that would appear on the student's official record. Appeals go to the dean.

Columbia Law affords significantly greater procedures to the resolution of major-offense charges. A disciplinary officer brings charges to a Hearing Board before which the accused student may have faculty, law-student, or outside representation as the dean permits. Both sides may present and cross-examine witnesses at the recorded hearing. Importantly, the accused student may rely on the student's representative for presenting and cross-examining witnesses. Indeed, Columbia Law's procedures permit the accused student to offer the student's representative's closing argument at the hearing. Sanctions are anything appropriate to the misconduct finding. Appeals on written briefs go to the dean.

Retain a National Law-Student Attorney

Facing misconduct charges at Columbia Law School is a serious situation requiring a serious response, especially for major offenses in which the findings may appear on the student's official record. Even if the charges do not appear to prevent earning a Columbia Law degree, their unfavorable resolution could prevent proving the necessary good character and fitness for bar licensure. Fortunately, Columbia Law's elaborate trial-like procedures for major offenses present substantial opportunities for skilled advocacy to make a difference in the outcome.

With such high stakes, and given such elaborate procedures, Columbia Law students facing misconduct charges should retain national expert law-student attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento not only knows the common and unusual issues law students face in earning their law degrees and qualifying for licensure under the bar. He also has the expert skills and aggressive approach to address false or exaggerated charges, and to negotiate or win the best possible outcome.

Graduate and professional-degree students nationwide retain national law-student attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm to represent them in misconduct matters. Attorney Joseph Lento has the knowledge, skill, experience, and expertise to help you through misconduct proceedings at Columbia Law School. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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