Student Defense – Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School, like many law schools, holds its students to an elevated standard of academic, professional, and personal conduct. Not only must law students follow the Law School's policies and procedures, but they must also demonstrate fine character and respect for Harvard Law School's values.

Harvard Law School is a community that promotes fairness, respect for the rule of law, free inquiry, truth, excellence, and lifelong learning. Everyone should respect each other and pursue honesty and integrity at all times. Failure to conduct yourself according to these principles could land you an allegation of misconduct, which may lead to sanctions. Bear in mind that a misconduct determination during law school impacts far more than your academics. It could impede your career as a lawyer.

When you're facing a serious misconduct allegation, an experienced student defense attorney-advisor can help.

Academic Misconduct at Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School’s Handbook of Academic Policies covers student conduct concerning academic honesty and relevant disciplinary procedures. Academic misconduct that is strictly prohibited under these policies includes:

  • Violation of examination rules: Students aren't allowed to use any resources during exams unless they have express permission from the instructor. Students who break exam rules will face disciplinary action.
  • Plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration: Students should not present the work or opinions of someone else as their own in papers or other assignments. Law students are also responsible for knowing how to cite their sources properly.
  • Multiple use of papers: Students may not submit the same work for more than one course without first getting permission from the Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.

How Harvard Law School Handles Academic Misconduct

Harvard Law School's policies cover disciplinary procedures for academic misconduct. The Administrative Board handles all misconduct, sometimes with formal proceedings and sometimes informally.

In the case of a formal written charge of a conduct infraction by a law student, the Administrative Board will investigate. If the Board believes that an infraction was likely, then they'll proceed with the case.

Formally accused students have the right to a hearing before the Administrative Board. At the hearing, students may have legal counsel present with them. The Board hears the student's case and votes to determine if the student has indeed violated the Law School's policies. The Board then imposes appropriate sanctions.

Students may only appeal the Board's decision if the sanction is either dismission or expulsion; other sanctions are final. If the student wants to appeal a dismission or expulsion, they can have a supplementary hearing.

Potential Sanctions for Law Student Misconduct

For disciplinary actions that fall under Harvard Law School's academic policies, there are four categories of possible sanctions for student infractions:

  1. Reprimand: Formal acknowledgment of academic wrongdoing
  2. Suspension: May last one term, one year, or any length the Administrative Board sees fit
  3. Dismission: Permanent form of separation from Law School
  4. Expulsion: Permanent form of separation from Law School

These sanctions go on students' transcripts and may be reported to the state Board of Bar Examiners.

If the Administrative Board determines that the academic misconduct violation isn't serious enough to merit one of the formal sanctions listed above, it may issue a warning to the student instead. This warning goes on your student file, but the Law School won't report it to any external entities (such as employers or the bar association) unless you have further academic misconduct violations.

The role of the Administrative Board at Harvard Law

Although the Administrative Board wields considerable power when it comes to student misconduct, the Board's primary goal concerning academic dishonesty is not “adversarial or prosecutorial.” It aims to be as favorable to students as possible while maintaining the high academic and ethical standards at Harvard Law.

In a statement issued in 2020, the Board said that given how often a one-term suspension was an appropriate sanction in past academic dishonesty cases, going forward, all deliberations on cases will start with a presumption of a one-term suspension. The facts of the case may yield themselves to a lesser or more severe sanction, but the starting point will be a one-term suspension.

Character and Fitness Evaluations for the State Bar

Like most pre-professional students, law students must adhere to the conduct policies of their educational institutions. Unlike some other professions, however, misconduct during law school can prevent you from obtaining licensure to practice law. In addition to passing the state bar exam to demonstrate your knowledge of the law, you must also pass a character and fitness evaluation to show you respect the law and commit to upholding it. Misconduct infractions could interfere with bar admission.

Harvard Law School faculty and administrators may also be required to disclose your violations to the state Board of Bar Examiners or may be unable to provide a character and fitness reference for you as a result of your academic misconduct.

How a Student Defense Attorney-Advisor Can Help

When you're a law student facing a misconduct allegation, your future is on the line. As a busy law student, you likely don't have the time to read through your institution's extensive academic dishonesty procedures and may be at a loss when it comes to crafting a defense strategy. Although it's a disciplinary proceeding with your law school and not a criminal or civil matter under the law, you'll still need a strong defense strategy. The Harvard Law School Administrative Board has a great deal more experience handling academic dishonesty infractions than you do in defending yourself from one, and regrettably, the school does not necessarily have your interests at heart. Additionally, law school disciplinary proceedings are a unique animal, characterized by intense and rigorous proceedings compared to other academic institutions.

An experienced student defense legal advisor can help prepare your defense for the hearing and protect your rights when dealing with your educational institution.

Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped law students as well as graduate and undergraduate students across the country who have been accused of academic misconduct by their universities. If you want to ensure your future in the legal profession, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.

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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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