You just received the notice. Your professor is turning you on an alleged charge of plagiarism, based on the results of an on-line tool. You know you didn’t do it. Or if there is a match, it was purely accidental. You want to fight the charge. But you looked up your school’s student code of conduct, and the policy manual specifically states that you cannot have an attorney.

Are you really stuck handling this on your own? What can you do?

Colleges and universities vary on the level of participation that an attorney can assume in an academic discipline proceeding. Some schools allow full participation with an attorney present at a hearing conducted much like a courtroom trial. Some schools allow an attorney to attend the hearing, but only for the purpose of whispering suggestions into the student’s ear and not to speak. Some schools do not permit an attorney at any time.

If you have read that you cannot have an attorney, then you have already taken an important first step by examining your school’s policy and procedures. The student policy manual or code of conduct acts like a contract between you and the school. A careful reading of the manual will help you determine how your offense is defined as well as what procedure the school should follow. But even though you are not allowed to have an attorney during the disciplinary process, you may still seek advice. An attorney can help guide you to the best strategy for combating the charges against you.

Furthermore, while an attorney may not be able to appear at a hearing, an attorney can help you draft any written responses that you need to submit to your school.

If you have been charged with an academic offense or have any questions about this topic, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or by emailing matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.


There are few student vices that a college or university professor detests more than plagiarism. Plagiarism can be loosely defined as passing off someone else’s work as your own without proper attribution. The work may be that of another student or an author off the web. Some schools even prohibit using your own work that you may have completed for another course without the current instructor’s consent. Some schools consider paraphrasing a form of plagiarism.

To catch students who plagiarize, teachers can submit student papers to websites such as plagiarism.com to find sentence by sentence matches from the internet.
Once a student is caught, the penalties may be severe. You may be failed from the class or suspended. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy that could lead to expulsion.

What can you do? If you are charged with plagiarism, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and the school is largely bound by it.

Is it clear that what you submitted actually constituted plagiarism? The definition of plagiarism can be a slippery slope. At what point does a paraphrase become an unauthorized use of someone else’s work? If you use one sentence off the web, but cite the source elsewhere in the paper, have you plagiarized?

Even if you admit you lifted the majority of your paper off the web, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps expulsion is too extreme for a minor degree of plagiarism.

If you are charged with plagiarism or academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. By attempting to explain yourself to the school, you may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense by digging yourself into a hole. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com. for advice.