On MyShingle, we celebrate the solo and small firm practitioner, and those at the forefront of innovation in the legal field. Our newest project, 41 Legal Practice Areas That Didn’t Exist 15 Years Ago highlights solo and small firm practitioners who have embraced unconventional and upcoming niche practices from 3D Printing Law to Online Privacy Law.
Our profile today is of Justin Dillon, who practices Title IX Defense Law.
The passage of the Title IX amendment was instrumental in making sex a protected class category. It did this by stipulating that federal funds would be withheld from institutions that were found guilty of discriminating against any person on the basis of sex. Title IX has also become highly publicized as the impetus for universities establishing hearing boards and disciplinary processes for sexualharassment and assault cases. With an increased focus on rising sexual assaultrates at universities, there has been heightened interest
Dillon’s interview highlights his experience in this field and his commitment to ensuring that students are treated fairly in Title IX proceedings.
Q: What is your name, your law firm’s name and location and website?
Q: At what point in your career did you begin to
A: I started doing this work shortly after I joined the firm in January of 2014 after leaving the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office. Our firm’s traditional focus has been white-collar criminal defense, but we had also done some of this work, too. The more Title IX work I did, the more I liked it. As with white-collar defense, your job is to stand between your client and a large institution (be it the government or a university) and yell, “Stop!” (Or if “Stop!” won’t work, at least, “Be fair!”) I have also always hated bullies, and some of the worst bullies you find these days work in Title IX offices.
Q; Tell us a little about your work in Title IX defense. What types of clients do you represent and what are some of the legal issues you encounter?
A: My firm has represented more than 100 students and professors at more than 80 colleges and universities nationwide. We’ve done cases literally from Alaska to Maine and Florida to California. Most of the cases we handle involve defending students and professors who have been accused of some form of sexual misconduct. But we also handle academic misconduct cases and have represented complainants and schools, too.
The most common legal issues we deal with are Title IX (which requires gender parity in the educational context) and due process. Many schools’ Title IX processes are so infected with gender bias that it would blow your hair back. We also see a lot of schools violating basic principles of due process, by doing things like giving accused students insufficient notice of the charges against them or denying them access to the evidence that’s going to be used against them. We’re not supposed to convict people based on secret evidence in America. But some schools still think that’s OK when you’re charged with a sex offense on a college campus. It’s shameful.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Title IX work?
A: Getting in the trenches with my clients and fighting like hell for them. Like criminal law, it’s one of the most deeply personal kinds of law you can practice. You’re holding someone’s future in your hands. And you’re fighting an institution that, nine times out of ten, doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about treating them fairly. Schools pay lip service to the idea that they care about everyone in their community, but in my experience, that just isn’t true. They care about protecting themselves, and often the best way to do that is to steamroll anyone who’s been accused of sexual misconduct.
Q: What kind of background is necessary for Title IX defense work?
A: It’s hard to generalize. Being able to think through complicated legal issues helps, because the law on how Title IX and due process apply in this area is constantly evolving. Sometimes you need to be able to make innovative legal arguments in order to protect your client’s rights. It’s also important to be adaptable. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve seen screw up a campus case because they don’t understand that the rules in these cases are different. You have to understand the unique forum you’re in and adapt your arguments to that forum. One-size-fits-all lawyers tend not to do well in this area.
Q: How did you market your practice and gain a reputation as a Title IX defense lawyer?
A: It all started with writing. My partner Matt Kaiser and I like to write and were able to get op-eds on this area published in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and at least half a dozen other places. We’d also post those on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get the word out. Then we started getting interviewed by reporters and invited to speak on panels. Now, we have a dedicated Title IX defense website, www.titleixlawfirm.com, which we’re told people have found a very useful resource.
Q: As you know, this practice area really did not exist 15 years ago. How do you address or advise clients on novel or emerging issues for which there is no precedent?
A: You have to read the cases and stay up to date on the law. I’ve always been a bit of a law nerd, so I love that part of it. I love to think about how, say, the constitutional right to confront your accuser should apply on a college campus. It isn’t a criminal proceeding, but it sure can ruin your life if you lose. So how should existing constitutional law evolve to apply to that setting?
Q: Tell us about one of your most interesting or challenging cases.
A: I once represented an international student who had been suspended on an interim basis after the school told him that he’d been accused of sexual misconduct by three different women. That meant he also lost his visa and had to go home. When he called me, I immediately realized that the school had committed a due process violation—they didn’t give him so much as a meeting before they booted him for the semester. So I was able to, with a few phone calls and stern emails, convince the school to lift the interim suspension and let him back on campus.
Then we started investigating. It turned out that one of the three accusers had never even filed a complaint with the school—it was
Q: What advice do you have for other attorneys interested in Title IX work?
A: If you’re not comfortable taking on your clients’ problems as your own—if you like to turn off the lights at 5 and go home, leaving your work and your worries behind you in the office—then this is not the field for you. College students don’t keep normal hours, and neither do their parents when their kid’s future is on the line. They need to know that, deep down, this is personalto you.