Student Misconduct Charges in the University of Tennessee State University System

The University of Tennessee System's Reach

The University of Tennessee System is among the nation's largest state university systems. The University of Tennessee System stands over and apart from The College System of Tennessee, the latter comprising thirteen community colleges and twenty-seven technical schools. The UT System has many undergraduate and graduate programs, enrolling over 50,000 students at its five campuses. Counting agriculture and public service institutes, the UT System employs over 12,000 people across all ninety-five counties in Tennessee. The UT System is the jewel of Tennessee higher education, a status and reputation that it jealously guards through its student conduct policies. The UT System has a reputation to protect. Unfortunately, on occasion, it may do so by accusing innocent students of misconduct. National college and university misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm is available to aggressively and effectively defend UT System misconduct charges.

University of Tennessee System Campuses

The UT System maintains campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Pulaski (called UT Southern), and Martin, plus the Health Science Center at Memphis. UT Knoxville, with over 29,000 students, is the UT System's flagship campus. More UT students attend in Knoxville than at all of the UT System's other campuses combined. UT Chattanooga has over 11,000 students, while UT Martin in rural northwest Tennessee has about 7,000 students and UT Southern in Pulaski has about 800 students. The UT Health Science Center in Memphis has about 3,000 students in six colleges, including dentistry, graduate health sciences, health professions, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy. UT Health Science students may participate in graduate education or clinics in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Jackson, Bristol, and Union City. No matter the UT campus you're enrolled in, national college and university misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are ready to represent you.

University of Tennessee System Governance

The Tennessee General Assembly formed the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in 1967 to approve state college and university academic degree programs. While the Tennessee Higher Education Commission approves each UT System degree program, the Higher Education Commission does not play a significant role in governing UT student conduct. Under Tennessee Code §49-7-202, the Commission's focus when approving degree programs is to ensure that Tennessee higher education programs address economic development, workforce development, and research needs.

The UT System itself, through its governance and administrative structures, determines what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate student conduct at the UT System's several campuses. Despite the UT System's statewide reach and multiple campuses, a centralized authority develops and adopts the Student Code of Conduct. A single president and twelve-member Board of Trustees together govern the UT System. An Administrative Council supports the president, while chancellors carry out the president's initiatives at each UT campus. The president and Administrative Council develop UT policies, including the representative UT Knoxville Student Code of Conduct, while the Board of Trustees formally adopts those policies. Tennessee Code §49-9-209(e) explicitly authorizes the UT System Board of Trustees to adopt such student policies across all UT System campuses. The UT Chattanooga Student Code of Conduct, and the Rules of the University of Tennessee (Martin), for example, are substantially the same as the UT Knoxville Student Code of Conduct.

University of Tennessee Student Conduct Governance

Even though the UT System's Student Code of Conduct is a central policy applicable across all UT campuses, each UT campus applies that Code through its administrative officers. The UT System delegates authority and responsibility for its Student Code of Conduct to the Vice-Chancellor for Student Life at each campus. Vice-Chancellors further delegate that responsibility to the campus's Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. If you receive notice of suspected student misconduct at a UT System campus, then you are likely to deal with the campus's Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Local university officials enforce the UT System's uniform Student Code of Conduct.

Administrative offices like UT's Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards follow administrative procedures in an academic culture. If you face disciplinary proceedings involving a UT Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards at any UT campus, then you need a national academic defense attorney who knows administrative procedures and academic culture. You need national college and university student misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm. Don't entrust your defense to a local lawyer who lacks the knowledge, skills, and experience of national college and university defense attorney Joseph Lento.

Off-Campus Conduct Affecting UT Enrollment

The UT System's Student Code of Conduct applies not only on each UT campus but potentially also to off-campus conduct affecting the university. Section 2.1 of UT's Student Code of Conduct states that the Code applies to conduct occurring on university-controlled property. But the same Section 2.1 permits the university to extend the Code's reach to conduct occurring off-campus that adversely affects the university, including conduct:

  • in university-affiliated off-campus activities
  • constituting academic dishonesty or research misconduct
  • prohibited by federal, state, or local law
  • threatening the student or another person's health, safety, or property

If you are enrolled as a student in any UT System program, then expect to comply with the UT Student Code of Conduct both on- and off-campus. Don't assume that off-campus conduct is beyond the Code's reach. University officials may decide to charge student misconduct for off-campus criminal activities, threaten health, safety, or property, violate academic standards, or otherwise adversely affect the UT System. The UT System's Student Code of Conduct has a very broad reach to include unrelated off-campus conduct. National college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm has helped hundreds of students face, defend, and defeat misconduct charges, many of them involving allegations of off-campus misconduct. Get the best available help from an academic attorney who knows college and university law and administrative procedures.

University of Tennessee Code Relationship to Other Laws

As indicated, the UT Student Code of Conduct extends its reach to include violations of federal, state, or local laws. The Code itself does not define every violation. It incorporates federal, state, and local laws. If the police arrest you for a suspected crime or a public prosecutor pursues criminal charges, your UT campus officials may simultaneously start misconduct proceedings. Indeed, a positive outcome of your criminal investigation or charge does protect you against a UT misconduct proceeding. Section 3.1 of the UT Student Code of Conduct expressly provides:

The Code has been adopted in furtherance of the University's interests and serves to supplement, rather than substitute for, the enforcement of civil and criminal law. Accordingly, University disciplinary action may be instituted against a student whose conduct potentially violates both criminal law and the Standards of Conduct without regard to the pending status of criminal charges or civil litigation. At the discretion of [the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards], disciplinary action relating to a violation of the Standards of Conduct may be carried out prior to, simultaneously with, or following criminal proceedings. Students alleged to have violated the Standards of Conduct may not challenge any aspect of the University's student conduct process on the grounds that criminal charges, civil litigation, or other University proceedings regarding the same incident are pending or have been terminated, dismissed, reduced, or have not yet been adjudicated.

If you face a police investigation or public prosecution while enrolled at a UT campus, then you can expect university discipline officials to coordinate with police during their investigation and discipline proceedings. Likewise, if authorities suspect you of a crime on UT property, then you can expect university officials to solicit and accept police and prosecutor assistance in investigating and charging for the suspected crime. Section 3.2 of the UT Student Code of Conduct states expressly, “The University will cooperate with law enforcement and other government agencies in the enforcement of criminal law on University controlled property and in the conditions imposed by criminal courts for the rehabilitation of students who have violated the criminal law.” Don't let criminal investigations and charges affect your University of Tennessee education. If the UT System suspects you of criminal misconduct, promptly retain national college and university misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm.

University of Tennessee Student Code of Conduct

Part IV of the UT Student Code of Conduct sets forth the UT System's Standards of Conduct. Violating a standard subjects the student to discipline under the Student Conduct Code. The UT Student Code of Conduct defines academic and institutional misconduct interfering with college and university programs, behavioral misconduct violating broader social expectations, and property damage. Part IV of the UT Student Code of Conduct prohibits UT students from violating each of these many Standards of Conduct:

ACADEMIC AND INSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS

  • academic dishonesty including “cheating, plagiarism, or any other act of academic dishonesty … in violation of the Honor Statement”
  • providing false information to a University official
  • misuse of information defined as “[f]alsifying, distorting, misrepresenting, or withholding information in connection with a University investigation or hearing…”
  • records or identification misconduct defined as “[f]orging, altering, destroying, falsifying, or misusing records or identification, whether in print or electronic form”
  • misuse of information technology, including unauthorized entry into or transfer of a file, using another person's identification “or password without that person's consent, using information technology facilities or resources to interfere with the work of another student, faculty member, staff member, or other member of the university community, using information technology facilities or resources to interfere” with the “normal operation of a university information technology system or network, circumventing university information technology system or network security, using information technology facilities or resources in violation of copyright laws, falsifying an email header, and conduct that violates the university's policy on the acceptable use of information technology resources”
  • failing to timely fulfill a university financial obligation
  • failing to comply with a lawful directive of a university employee or public official acting within the scope of their duties, or failing to identify oneself to a university employee or public official acting within the scope of their duties
  • failing to appear at a university hearing unless the student has a right to not appear under state or federal law
  • violating sanctions such as a no-contact directive, an interim restriction, a disciplinary sanction, or a condition of re-enrollment
  • “obstructing or disrupting teaching, learning, studying, research, public service, administration, disciplinary proceedings, emergency services, or any other university-affiliated activity, or the free flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic on university-controlled property,” subject to First Amendment rights
  • violating university rules for facility use, smoking, use of information technology resources, research misconduct, access to libraries or materials, dining services, parking or transportation, identification card use, residence halls, and registered student organizations
  • engaging in retaliation because another person participated in a protected activity that would discourage a reasonable person from engaging in that protected activity

BEHAVIORAL VIOLATIONS

  • harm to others defined as “[c]ausing physical harm to any person; endangering the health, safety, or welfare of any person; engaging in conduct that causes a reasonable person to fear harm to their health, safety, or welfare; or making an oral or written statement that an objectively reasonable person hearing or reading the statement would interpret as a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of violence to a particular individual or group of individuals”
  • discrimination defined as “[c]onduct that discriminates against any person(s) or organization(s) based on a characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law prohibiting discrimination; or conduct that violates the University's rules or policies prohibiting discrimination”
  • harassment defined as “[u]nwelcome conduct directed toward a person that is discriminatory on a basis prohibited by federal, state, or local law, and that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit”
  • invasion of privacy when that person has “a reasonable expectation of privacy including, without limitation, using electronic or other means to make a video or photographic record of any person in a location in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, without the person's knowledge or consent.” Invasion of privacy includes “making a video or photographic record of a person in showers, locker rooms, or restrooms” or storing, sharing, or distributing that recording
  • hazing is defined as intentional or reckless acts endangering the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of a student, or which induces or coerces a student to endanger their mental or physical health, safety, or welfare
  • disorderly conduct is defined as “[f]ighting or other physically violent or physically threatening conduct, creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose, making noise that could unreasonably disturb others who are carrying on lawful activities, or conduct that breaches the peace”
  • engaging in lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct, including public exposure of one's sexual organs, public urinating, and public sexual acts
  • inciting imminent lawless action defined as “[e]ngaging in speech, either orally or in writing, that is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action”
  • prohibited weapons defined as “[p]ossessing, carrying, using, storing, or manufacturing any weapon if prohibited by federal, state, or local law, or possessing, carrying, using, storing, or manufacturing any weapon on university-controlled property or in connection with a University-affiliated activity,” with certain exceptions
  • alcohol misuse defined as “[c]onsuming, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, dispensing, selling, or being under the influence of alcoholic beverages on university-controlled property or in connection with a university-affiliated activity unless expressly permitted by University rules or policy,” “[c]onsuming, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, dispensing, selling, or being under the influence of alcoholic beverages, if prohibited by federal, state, or local law,” or “[p]roviding an alcoholic beverage to a person younger than twenty-one years of age, unless permitted by law”
  • drug misuse is defined as “[u]sing, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, selling, dispensing, or being under the influence of drugs, if prohibited by federal, state, or local law, using, manufacturing, possessing, distributing, or selling drug paraphernalia, if prohibited by federal, state, or local law, using or possessing a prescription drug if the prescription was not issued to the student, or distributing or selling a prescription drug to a person to whom the prescription was not originally issued”
  • violating federal, state, or local law
  • fire safety violations including arson, falsely reporting a fire or an explosive or incendiary device, or other emergencies, setting off a false fire alarm, and “tampering with, removing, or damaging fire alarms, fire extinguishers, or any other safety or emergency equipment”
  • unauthorized access possessing, using, or duplicating university keys, access cards, or identification cards without university authorization
  • property theft or damage, including misappropriation, unauthorized possession, use, sale, duplication, or entry, vandalism, destruction, or conduct that is reasonably likely to cause damage

The Breadth of University of Tennessee Student Prohibitions

The vast number of UT Student Code of Conduct prohibitions suggests that almost any student conduct that violates institutional or social norms could become a UT misconduct case. In many cases, the social, civil, or even criminal sanctions for your misunderstanding, oversight, or mistake may be the least of your worries. Your larger concern may be that the University of Tennessee decides to pursue disciplinary charges against you for things that did not seem to you to be related to your university education or serious enough to interrupt your education. If you face University of Tennessee System misconduct charges, promptly retain national college and university misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

University of Tennessee Title IX Policy

The UT System, like all other institutions of higher education receiving federal funds, also maintains a Title IX anti-sexual harassment policy. For the university to receive federal funding, Title IX policies must prohibit sex discrimination in the form of sexual assault, dating or domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The UT Title IX policy prohibits each of those Title IX forms of sexual misconduct. If your campus suspects you of committing any of these acts, then you may face Title IX disciplinary charges. For alleged Title IX violations, Section 3.6 of the UT Student Code of Conduct refers students to the UT Title IX policy, as follows:

In addition to rights granted in the Code, in cases involving an allegation of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating or domestic violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, or retaliation, the Complainant and the Respondent shall have the rights outlined in the University's rules, policies, and procedures for investigating and resolving complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, or retaliation in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, University rules, and other applicable law.

The UT Student Code of Conduct incorporates the UT Title IX policy. Section 4.7 of the UT Student Code of Conduct states expressly that a violation of the UT Title IX policy violates the UT Student Code of Conduct. Title IX charges are serious business. Colleges and universities take them seriously, devoting substantial resources to their investigation and prosecution in disciplinary proceedings. You, too, should take them most seriously. If you face Title IX charges within the University of Tennessee System, promptly retain national college and university Title IX defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm.

The Special Hazard of Sexual Harassment Charges

Students generally know not to commit sexual assault, stalking, dating or domestic violence crimes, each prohibited under Title IX policies. Yet, students might not be aware of the (less obviously harmful) conduct that Title IX's sexual harassment prohibition reaches. Given the broad definition that UT's Title IX policy gives to sexual harassment, you could run afoul of UT's Title IX sexual harassment prohibition without realizing your conduct is suspect. UT's Title IX policy defines sexual harassment as “[u]nwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the University's education program or activity.” In deciding what conduct is harassing, university officials look to the “totality of the circumstances” including “the context in which the conduct and/or words occurred; and the frequency, nature, and severity of the words and/or conduct.” Don't get caught in the morass of vague sexual harassment definitions. If you face sexual harassment charges in the UT System, promptly retain national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm.

University of Tennessee Sexual Misconduct Policy

The UT Title IX policy goes well beyond the prohibitions that federal law requires for the university to receive federal funding. UT's Title IX policy also prohibits sexual exploitation. The UT Title IX policy defines sexual exploitation quite broadly as “taking sexual advantage of another person, without that person's active agreement.” The person must use affirmative words or expressive conduct expressly agreeing to the sexual act. You may not be aware that some of the acts that the UT policy defines as exploitation are violations. The UT policy's long list of examples of sexual exploitation includes:

  • secretly observing, photographing, audiotaping, videotaping, or recording a person engaging in sexual acts, or a person's breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals, when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy
  • allowing or enabling a person to secretly observe, photograph, audiotape, videotape, or record another person engaging in sexual acts, or another person's breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals, when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy
  • showing, posting, or sharing video, audio, or an image depicting a person engaging in sexual acts, or a person's breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals, when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy unless all persons agree
  • “prostituting another person or engaging in sex trafficking
  • knowingly exposing another person to a sexually transmitted infection or disease without informing the other person that one has a sexually transmitted infection or disease”
  • forcing a person to participate in sexual acts with a person other than oneself
  • “forcing a person to expose the person's breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals
  • forcing a person to take an action against that person's will by threatening to show, post, or share video, audio, or an image that depicts the person's nudity or depicts the person engaging in sexual acts”
  • “forcing a person to take an action of a sexual nature against that person's will by threatening to disclose information that would harm a person's reputation
  • forcing a person to take an action against that person's will by threatening to disclose information of a sexual or intimate nature that would harm a person's reputation”
  • causing or requesting an incapacitated person to expose the person's breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals or to participate in sexual acts with a person other than oneself

These other forms of UT System sexual misconduct can create sharp disputes between students, in he said/she said battles. Make no mistake: a single uncorroborated statement from one complaining witness can lead to the worst possible college or university sanction if the hearing official or panel comes to believe that statement. Your denial may not be sufficient. If you face sexual misconduct charges at the University of Tennessee at any of its several campuses, then be sure to retain national college and university sexual misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm. Put the cross-examination and other skills of an experienced and aggressive trial lawyer to your defense.

Other University of Tennessee System Conduct Codes

Campuses, colleges, and schools within the University of Tennessee state system may make additional rules. For example, Section 2.2 of UT's Student Code of Conduct expressly permits graduate or professional programs to “take separate and independent academic action against students for alleged violations of professional and/or ethical standards using procedures other than those contained in the Code.” The UT Health Science Center thus imposes its own Honor Code, reminding students enrolled in those medical programs that medical professionals have their own professionalism norms and rules. The Honor Code requires personal integrity in classrooms, laboratory work, and clinical work. Violations of the UT Health Science Center Honor Code can include:

  • unauthorized assistance with coursework, exams, laboratory work, or clinical work
  • recording fraudulent patient data
  • falsifying laboratory results
  • unauthorized substitution for another student for lab work
  • unauthorized collaboration
  • plagiarism and self-plagiarism (submitting the same work twice)

Graduate schools and professional schools have special interests in protecting their integrity and reputation and protecting the clients, patients, and others affected by clinical practice. Students in the UT System and elsewhere are often not familiar with professional rules and norms until completing required coursework and clinical practice. Yet violating those new and unfamiliar professional norms can result in misconduct charges. If you or someone you know faces misconduct charges in a graduate, professional, or other special program in the UT System, a program that follows its own code and rules, then retain national academic misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento has successfully represented many graduate and professional students who faced misconduct charges under professionalism and other special conduct rules.

Consequences of University of Tennessee Rule Violations

Part X of the UT Student Code of Conduct addresses the sanctions that a UT campus Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards can impose on a student whom the university finds committed misconduct. The Code states that sanctions are supposed to educate and rehabilitate the accused student. So far, so good. But the Code also states that sanctions are to discourage the accused student and others from engaging in similar misconduct. That provision can mean making an example of the accused student. The Code then lists these authorized sanctions, roughly from least to greatest:

  • warning
  • disciplinary probation
  • educational activities
  • restitution
  • supervised community service
  • loss or restriction of privileges
  • loss or move of university housing
  • deferred suspension conditioned on student compliance
  • immediate suspension without deferral
  • expulsion from the university
  • withholding of a degree
  • revocation of a previously awarded degree

Do not underestimate the seriousness of these sanctions. Any sanction can lead to the loss of important educational opportunities such as teaching assistant and research assistant roles, teaching assignments, other university work assignments, and the ability to register for special courses, seminars, or clinics. Sanctions could also mean lost credit for assignments, lost credit for completed courses, and reduction of grades or a failing grade. Sanctions could also mean the inability to transfer or to gain admission to other undergraduate or graduate programs. Delay in graduation, failure to graduate, loss of student loans, acceleration of student loans, loss of student housing, and lost jobs and careers are other potential consequences. These consequences point to the importance of an aggressive defense to any misconduct charges. Do not let false, unfair, or exaggerated misconduct charges derail your education and career. Retain national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

Student Rights in the University of Tennessee System

Fortunately, the UT Student Code of Conduct in its Part V guarantees certain rights to the student whom UT officials charge with misconduct. You are very likely to need skilled academic attorney representation to enforce those rights. Administrative hearings can have trial-like features, including examination and cross-examination of witnesses, objections to evidence and arguments, and opening statements and closing arguments. The rights are there to protect you, but you'll need help exercising those rights meaningfully. Those rights include:

  • the right to retain an academic attorney of your choosing
  • the right to notice of the charges against you
  • the right to a formal hearing of the charges against you
  • the right to adequate notice of the time and place of hearing
  • the right to be present and to participate at the hearing
  • the right to present information in exoneration and mitigation
  • the right to propose questions for adverse witnesses
  • the right of access to the documents the university uses at the hearing
  • a presumption of innocence until the university proves you responsible
  • the right not to have your silence used against you
  • the right to unbiased officials, including the right to challenge bias
  • the right to receive, review, and appeal the written decision

Don't let your academic future and your job and career after graduation depend on your own efforts to invoke these critical rights. And don't leave your defense to a local attorney who lacks skills and experience in these highly sensitive and peculiar academic, administrative proceedings. Don't let your future hang in the balance. When you retain national college and university misconduct defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm, you get the defense you need. You get the defense your education and future deserve.

University of Tennessee Misconduct Procedures

Parts VI, VII, and VIII of the UT Student Code of Conduct describe the procedures that your misconduct proceeding should follow. Those procedures begin with the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards' review of the complaint against you. Depending on the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the Office may impose a no-contact directive toward the alleged victim. The Office may also place a disciplinary hold on your registration and transcript, freezing your ability to continue your education and career. Investigation follows. The Office may propose that admit to misconduct and accept certain sanctions. The temptation may be to do so but do not give in without advice from an experienced national college and university defense attorney. You need to know the collateral consequences of any admission and sanctions.

If the matter does not resolve informally by agreement, then Part VIII of the UT Student Code of Conduct describes the formal hearing procedures that will resolve the charges by written decision. A seven-member Student Conduct Board hears the charges. The university draws the seven members from a pool of faculty members, staff members, and students. The hearing rules include pre-hearing exchange of information, the testimony of witnesses at the hearing, questioning of adverse witnesses through the hearing chairperson, and closing arguments. If the hearing involves a Title IX misconduct allegation, then Part IX of the UT Student Code of Conduct provides for defense attorney cross-examination of adverse witnesses, as federal regulations currently require. The university records the hearing so that the losing party can have a record for a potential appeal.

These procedures are, in short, trial-like in nature. The skills necessary to make an effective defense at the hearing are the skills of a national academic attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has represented hundreds of students in such hearings nationwide. He has the expert academic, administrative, and trial skills you need for your most effective defense.

Retain Expert Attorney Assistance

If you or someone you know faces student misconduct charges in the University of Tennessee System, at any of its campuses, know that national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are ready to pursue an aggressive defense. Do not ignore misconduct investigations or charges, and do not give in to false, unfair, or exaggerated charges. The UT System guarantees you certain procedural rights. Don't let the UT Office of Student Conduct and Community Standard rush you into admitting to charges for which you are not responsible. Your education and career are worth too much to you. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a Lento Law Firm consultation or use the online service.

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