Student Defense - Washington and Lee University School of Law

Washington and Lee University has an unusual system for dealing with academic dishonesty. Rather than let university staff and faculty administer a student code of conduct, honor code, or similar document, Washington and Lee has a student-run Honor System. Every student who is part of the W&L community agrees to the Honor System and must comply with it, including law students.

The university only has one sanction for violations of the Honor System, and it is dismissal from the university. Given the nature of this sanction, you can imagine why a suspected violation of the Honor System is such a serious matter. Unlike other law schools where you may receive a sanction as light as a reprimand or lowered grade, W&L Law will ask you to stop your studies toward your degree entirely. You would have to find another law school to accept you after having such a sanction on your record, and you may have difficulty gaining admission to a state bar association.

If you're facing an academic misconduct violation at Washington and Lee University School of Law, seeking the help of a specialist in student defense could save your future legal career.

Academic Misconduct at W&L Law

All forms of academic misconduct at Washington and Lee University are governed by the student body. Only students have the authority to hold their fellow students to account for issues of academic integrity and honor. This Honor System dates back to 1865 when Robert E. Lee, then-president of Washington College, reduced faculty authority in maintaining honor among students. In 1905, the student-run Honor System officially began.

All information about the Honor Code, including the procedures for dealing with a suspected Honor Violation, is available in The White Book. Every three years, The White Book is put under review so students may amend or update anything related to the Honor Code, as the definition of honor doesn't stay the same from one generation of students to the next.

What Constitutes Academic Misconduct under the W&L Honor System?

Students may determine what is honorable and what is not, as there's no formal codification of Honor System violations. There's no list of specific infractions like cheating, plagiarism, multiple submissions, etc. Any behavior deemed as a “breach of the community's trust” constitutes an Honor Violation. An Honor Violation:

  • Weakens the bonds that unite the University community
  • Jeopardizes the privileges the Honor System affords to students
  • Is not small enough to ignore

W&L Honor System – Student Expectations

The Honor System at Washington and Lee not only holds students to account, it also grants them certain freedoms and privileges. To follow the Honor System, students must represent themselves truthfully and seek no unfair advantage over their peers. All members of the W&L community, including faculty and staff, have a responsibility to report breaches of the Honor System to the Executive Committee.

Academic Misconduct Procedures at W&L Law

The Executive Committee is a group of students who are elected to enforce the rules of the Honor System. The Committee includes a President, Vice President, and Secretary, as well as student representatives from each class and the School of Law.

Since there are no specific violations cited in The White Book, any member of the W&L community may choose whether to report a suspected violation to the Executive Committee or not. After the Executive Committee hears an allegation, the matter proceeds through an investigation and hearing.

Executive Committee Investigation

If two of the three officers of the Executive Committee (President, Vice President, Secretary) agree to proceed with an allegation, they start an investigation. The team conducting the investigation can gather potential evidence as they see fit, and does not have to inform the accused student of the allegation at this point. The investigators will then make a report to the Executive Committee based on their findings, along with a recommendation for further action.

Executive Committee Hearing

After the report of the investigators, the Executive Committee (excluding the members who did the investigation) will vote on whether to proceed. They need a majority vote to move forward to an Executive Committee Hearing.

If there is to be a hearing, the Executive Committee will notify the accused student orally and in writing at least 72 hours before the hearing. At the hearing, the accused student may have two advisors present, but these advisors must be members of the student body. The accused student can also call witnesses and question witnesses, and can give optional opening and closing statements.

After the presentation of evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the accused student's closing statement, the Executive Committee will deliberate and vote on whether the student is innocent or guilty of an Honor Violation. The Committee needs a two-thirds vote for the student to be guilty. If the verdict is guilty, the accused student has two options:

  1. Withdraw from the university
  2. Appeal to a Student Body Hearing

Appealing an Honor Violation at Washington and Lee Law

Students that receive a guilty verdict from the W&L Executive Committee may appeal the decision. The Student Body Hearing will be public and conducted before a jury of 12 random students from the student body. The Student Body Hearing proceeds in the same way as the Executive Committee Hearing, with opening statements, witnesses and evidence, and closing statements.

The jury will deliberate and vote; it takes eight votes to deliver a guilty verdict. If the student is guilty, they must withdraw from the university. This verdict is final.

Trust a Student Defense Attorney to Fight Your Misconduct Allegation

Although you may not have an attorney present during Honor Violation proceedings at Washington and Lee, you can still consult with an attorney-advisor outside of official procedures for advice. Your advisor can coach you on a defense strategy, help you write opening and closing statements, and advise you on questions to ask your witnesses. As importantly, they will work tirelessly to ensure a fair process and a favorable outcome.

Joseph D. Lento specializes in helping students defend themselves from academic misconduct allegations at their universities. At Washington and Lee, the stakes are incredibly high for an academic misconduct violation, and as is the case at all law schools, disciplinary proceedings at the school are characterized by intense and rigorous proceedings unlike most other academic institutions. If you want to protect your interests as a law student and your future as a lawyer, contact 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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