Attending law school requires an incredible commitment of time, energy, and effort – not to mention money for tuition and years of your life spent striving just to get here. After pouring your heart and soul into achieving your goal of becoming an attorney, it would be a tragedy for all of your hard work to go to waste because of an unjust and unfounded disciplinary proceeding.
Law students may find themselves in many situations that have serious consequences, including accusations of academic misconduct, Title IX charges, and even legal consequences or dismissal from an institution. Especially if you've been unfairly accused, the possibility of punitive actions damaging your fledgling legal career is extremely frustrating. That's why you need to know your rights as a law student and fight to protect them.
Student Disciplinary Issues for Law Students
Law students face many challenges that extend beyond grades and exams. Enmeshed in a competitive, cutthroat environment where every student wants to claw their way to the top of the class and acquire the best opportunities, law students may find themselves in situations that can easily breed conflict and other more serious issues. Many law students can unexpectedly find themselves facing academic concerns, allegations of misconduct, professional challenges, or even sexual harassment claims.
Facing groundless allegations can make the already difficult life of a law student even more crushing – and may even damage their hard-earned future. Some of the more severe concerns facing today's law students may include:
- Academic misconduct
- Title IX complaints such as sexual harassment or sexual misconduct
- Disciplinary charges
- Academic issues
- Professionalism concerns
- Academic appeals or dismissal
You'll want to familiarize yourself with your law school's policies and procedures regarding disciplinary measures. Each school has its own ways of handling misconduct charges, and knowing your rights within that framework is the first step to defending yourself. The Lento Law Firm can use our experience managing thousands of student misconduct cases to help you find the best way to move forward – and as every legal scholar knows, being informed and proactive are essential to your defense.
Academic misconduct is a serious charge, and the consequences can be severe and extremely harmful to your future. Law schools will thoroughly investigate any allegations of academic misconduct because penalties can effectively derail a student's goal of a successful legal career. If a student is found guilty, their degree may be revoked, or they may be expelled or suspended from the law school. If a student is expelled, they cannot return to that particular school and may find it difficult to be accepted to another.
The most common types of academic misconduct for law students are:
- Plagiarism, which may include copying the ideas of another without giving due credit
- Failure to use proper quotation marks and adequate citations
- Collaborating with others without their permission
- Resubmitting or reusing an assignment or paper without permission
- Fabricating data, research, or results
- Impersonating another student
- Sabotaging other students
Plagiarism is among the most common types of academic misconduct. Consequences can be brutal, but in many cases, plagiarism may be unintentional – and oftentimes, students are not fully aware of what constitutes plagiarism. While many students know directly copying another author's work is wrong, gray areas exist – for instance, paraphrasing someone else's ideas without giving credit is also considered plagiarism. One study found that up to 24 percent of graduate students admit to paraphrasing information from the internet without footnoting it—and those are just the students who self-reported.
Because plagiarism is so pervasive, many professionals in an academic setting, who have made their living on their words and ideas, will jump to the most extreme conclusion when they suspect a student's work isn't entirely their own. But the truth is often much more complex: In many cases, students suspected or accused of plagiarism did so unintentionally, often due to stress, illness, or other personal problems.
So what does accidental plagiarism look like? It turns out there's a fine line between right and wrong – and in this case, the difference between blatant plagiarism and a simple mistake can often be difficult for professors to determine. Plagiarism is considered an act of fraud that involves stealing an idea and lying about it afterward. Many law students accused of plagiarism do not have such blatantly black-and-white intentions and may find themselves copying another's work or ideas without meaning to do so. Even so, unintentional plagiarism can still result in disciplinary action.
Some examples of accidental plagiarism may include:
- Failing to make it crystal-clear which ideas are your own and which you have taken or adapted from the research of others.
- Failing to include a citation for any paraphrased words or ideas of another person.
- Adapting a quotation incorrectly and changing the meaning of a quote, even slightly.
In some cases of accidental plagiarism, the punishment may be less severe, though this is not always the case. In other instances, a student who is innocent may face unwarranted charges of plagiarism or misconduct due to miscommunication or misunderstanding. If you are facing allegations of academic misconduct such as plagiarism, a legal advisor can help you understand all of your options. Additionally, if your school offers an academic misconduct hearing, you will need advice and representation for your best chance of a favorable result.
Academic Misconduct Hearings
Each law school will likely have its own procedures for academic misconduct hearings. To understand what to expect in your unique case, it may be helpful to consult your law school's code of conduct. Some law schools will have different penalties for different types of charges – for instance, a student accused of accidental plagiarism will likely face different proceedings and consequences than someone accused of sexual harassment.
In most cases, the process will likely entail a meeting between the student and a panel of law school faculty or staff, as well as other students in certain cases. Depending on the charges, the hearings can range from an informal conversation to a formal proceeding complete with statements from witnesses. The primary purpose of a hearing is to allow school officials to review allegations made against a law student. As in a courtroom setting, the officials will review the evidence and consider statements from witnesses, as well as any comments from the student who has been accused.
The result of the hearing will determine the student's potential discipline or punishment, which may have serious impacts on their future. If you are facing an academic misconduct hearing, protect yourself and your future legal career by consulting with an experienced education attorney.
Disciplinary Charges for Law Students
There are many disciplinary charges that law students may encounter, either through their university or as criminal charges. While some of these situations are more severe, others can easily arise from miscommunication or misunderstanding of a student's intentions. In addition to charges around academic integrity, other charges law students may face include:
- Social media violations
- Internet threats
- Computer crimes and cyber crimes
- Drugs on campus and other drug crimes
- Alcohol on campus
- Software piracy
- Destruction of property
- Breaking and entering
- Rape and sexual assault
Law Students and Title IX Charges
Among the most contentious and potentially damaging types of allegations facing law students are Title IX charges. Title IX is a federal rights law that is part of the Educational Amendments of 1972. It promises to protect students nationwide in both K-12 and postsecondary educational institutions from sex discrimination and sexual assault. Under Title IX, any federally funded school must investigate all allegations of sexual discrimination or assault or risk losing their funding.
Charges that fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX can include:
- Sexual harassment
- Gender discrimination
- Derogatory or sexist remarks
- Sexually suggestive jokes, catcalls, or innuendos
- Physical and aggressive sexual advances
- Offensive touching
- Revenge porn
- Dating violence or intimate partner violence
- Domestic violence
- Bullying behavior
- Gender-based bullying
- Sexual assault, battery, or coercion
- Non-consensual sex
The Department of Education requires universities to investigate all forms of sexual misconduct to ensure students can pursue education free of discrimination. Recent changes to Title IX require schools to address individual cases of serious sexual misconduct, redefine what constitutes sexual harassment, and require live hearings allowing cross-examination when adjudicating sexual misconduct complaints.
Because many Title IX charges carry such serious consequences, any conviction could end up on your permanent academic record and impact your ability to gain internships or employment after graduation. These consequences are particularly disheartening if you've been falsely accused of any type of sexual misconduct. Since there is much at stake, if you face these types of allegations, you must seek out a seasoned legal advisor so you can be proactive about protecting your rights.
In some cases, your law school may enlist the help of local law enforcement in providing punitive action, particularly if you've been charged with a crime such as drunk driving, drug possession, theft, or weapons offenses. If you are in this type of situation and are facing potential legal consequences in addition to academic punishment, it is essential you enlist the aid of a legal advisor as soon as possible.
Law Student Academic Issues
For law students, grades and class ranking are essential to success, as higher-ranked students often end up with the best internship and career opportunities, as well as the best trajectory to earn professional acclaim. If a law student does not earn the grade they feel they deserve on an essay, exam, or project, they can sometimes appeal their professor's decision, particularly in cases of unfairness, unequal treatment, or other types of discrimination.
Types of academic appeals could include:
Every law school has its own approach for handling academic appeals, but the process should allow students to defend poor academic performance due to personal issues, family issues, illnesses, or disabilities. Many law schools are willing to work with students who have a legitimate and unavoidable reason for academic struggles – though different types of evidence will be required to support the appeal. If a student has substantive evidence that a grade or academic decision is unfair, their appeal has a better chance of succeeding. A legal advisor can help a law student understand their options before filing an appeal.
Remediation for Law Students
In some cases, remediation may help a law student overcome certain issues and get their academic career and personal behavior back on track. Example of remediation may include:
- Retaking a course
- Retaking a curriculum level assessment
- Retaking a semester
- Retaking an entire year
These options may not seem as blatantly harmful to a law student's future as legal consequences or being kicked out of an institution, but they can still hinder a law student's likelihood of success. In some cases, remediation may be unfair or unwarranted, and an experienced education attorney can help you understand your options.
Often law schools have good intentions when recommending remediation for students who are struggling – after all, the institution also benefits from law students going on to become successful attorneys and contributing members of society. But in some cases, remediation can pose a threat to a law student's ability to graduate, increase the cost and duration of their education or create other issues that make remediation more burdensome than helpful.
When remediation works properly, it can help a struggling law student overcome certain issues and actually contribute to their success. However, if a school is too late or too early in pushing a law student into remediation, the results can be detrimental and cause an already floundering law student to fall even further behind their peers.
In other cases, certain methods of remediation fail to acknowledge specific challenges certain law students face, such as accommodations for disabled students as mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because disabilities are not always obvious, these types of oversights by a law school can be extremely detrimental to a law student's ability to participate fully and be on equal footing with their peers. If a law student believes their school is overlooking certain legally protected accommodations, a legal advisor can help hold the law school accountable.
Law Student Dismissals
A law school's code of conduct should make it clear what student actions are punishable by dismissal. Dismissal or expulsion from a law school is an extremely harsh and detrimental punishment, as not only does the student face removal from their current institution, they are also much less likely to be admitted to any other school. If you are facing potential dismissal from law school, it is essential to consult a legal advisor to know your options and protect your rights.
An experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a more preferable outcome, especially if your dismissal was due to academic or misconduct concerns. If a law student is experiencing stress outside the classroom or other situations that may influence their academic performance, their school should take that into account.
These situations may include:
- Financial issues: Law school can be very expensive. This can be a stressor in itself. If a law student is working in addition to studying, that can represent a significant distraction. When determining appropriate consequences, your law school should take your financial burden into account, especially if it poses an undue amount of anxiety.
- Psychological or medical issues: If a law student experiences illness or mental health symptoms, their academics may suffer as a result. Conversely, a stressful academic environment can also cause anxiety or depression, which can further affect academic performance (or exacerbate pre-existing health conditions). Your law school needs to know about these issues and provide appropriate support or resources.
- Family crises or unexpected trauma: If a law student is dealing with drama or death within their family, their academic performance might understandably suffer as a result.
- Learning disabilities: If a law student has learning disabilities, the challenging subjects, and high workload inherent to law school may become overwhelming without appropriate resources and accommodations. Students need to let their school know about any learning disabilities. The school may be able to afford the struggling student with accommodations to alleviate disability-related stress under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
If your law school recommends dismissal and you believe your school has not taken one or more of these mitigating factors into account, consult a students' rights advisor immediately.
A Law Student Defense Attorney Advisor Ready to Assist You
Allegations of academic, professional, or sexual misconduct are serious and can have serious adverse impacts on a law student's future. If you are a law student facing charges, an investigation, or an academic or disciplinary hearing, it is vital that you work with a legal advisor you can trust and who has track record of success because so much is at stake. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have handled countless misconduct hearings, Title IX actions, and academic and dismissal proceedings at law schools nationwide, and they are widely regarded across the nation as experts in the field. To learn about your options, call the Lento Law firm at (888) 535-3686 or fill out our brief online form for more information.