Why You Need a Lawyer if You Are Accused of Sexual Assault on Campus

Some schools will tell you that you don’t need a lawyer. Anyone who tells you that is lying and just wants to railroad you. If you’re considering hiring a lawyer, here are the ways we think lawyers can help.

1. Lawyers Can Counsel You about the Process

As lawyers, we’ve been through this before. We’ve seen what is and isn’t likely to get traction. If you want to tell the school that it has no business deciding whether someone is guilty of a sexual assault, you’re not likely to get much traction, even if you strongly believe it and think the school needs to hear it. If you want to rest on your laurels because you have a text from the accuser the day after an encounter that seems inconsistent with a sexual assault, we can talk about how best to use that text and how we’ve seen this scenario play out in past cases.

2. Lawyers Can Help You Get a Fairer Hearing

If a school wants to deny you a chance to ask questions at a hearing or wants to keep you from introducing important evidence, a lawyer can sometimes get the school to reconsider that decision. When we are hired in a case, one of the first things we do is send what’s called a “litigation hold” letter, telling the school that we are on the case, advising it that we are thinking about suing the school if this goes badly, and directing the school to preserve evidence. Because if you don’t ask school administrators not to destroy evidence, they will. We’ve seen it happen.

A related part of this process is that if the school persists in doing something deeply unfair to you, it sets up an issue that you can later appeal in the school’s internal process or that you can potentially bring in a lawsuit. While you’re much better off winning at the hearing than losing but having an issue you can bring up later—and we think that pushing for the fairest hearing you can get is the tactically best option in just about every case—knowing what issues are out there if you have to think about next steps can be a big help.

Right now, male students tend to get little relief from the schools themselves. They get almost no help from the U.S. Department of Education. And public sentiment is against the accused who are caught up in these proceedings. The place an accused student is most likely to find support is in a court. The presence of a lawyer in a case can be the strongest indicator to a school that you are prepared to fight for your rights all the way to the end.

3. Lawyers Can Help You Investigate

Any lawyer with trial experience knows how to investigate a case or has worked closely with an investigator in the past. Lawyers can help you interview witnesses and avoid some of the pitfalls. We can help you collect evidence to give to the school. And we can help you think through what evidence may be out there that you should try to collect.

4. Lawyers Can Teach You How to Fight

Because you have to fight much of the case on your own—at most schools, the lawyer can only sit next to his or her client, not offer advice—a lawyer can help you learn how to do that.

We can help you think about how to present your case, how to ask smart questions of the other side, and how to raise issues about the evidence at the hearing.

One thing that happens at these cases is that the accuser comes in, talks first, and often cries for several minutes as she gives her testimony. Then the panel turns to the man who has been accused. If he’s angry and defiant, it plays right into the accuser’s hands—the emotional dynamic of is that she is a wounded rape victim in need of protection, against someone who looks like central casting’s vision of a rapist. We can help with that. We spend a tremendous amount of time with our clients talking about how they ought to present themselves to mitigate that exact dynamic.

At the hearing, we’ll ensure our clients use the right words and ask the right questions. Before a hearing, we work with our clients to develop a script of what to say. If the plan needs to change during a hearing, we’ll type questions on a laptop for our clients to ask. Between us, we have a tremendous amount of trial experience, so we’re used to coming up with good questions “on the fly” as they arise in court. We’re able to suggest questions that our clients might not think of in the stress of the moment, in ways that the panel will have a hard time not agreeing to ask the accuser.