This article originally ran in The Legal Intelligencer on June 21, 2018.
Patricia Hamill of Conrad O’Brien: Hamill’s work in building a regional and nationwide practice litigating against colleges and universities on behalf of college students who have been subjected to campus disciplinary proceedings has made her a standout among her peers.
She has achieved many favorable results, including preliminary injunctions, settlement involving vacating of underlying disciplinary findings, and sanctions against colleges and universities.
The Legal Intelligencer: How did you develop your practice?
Patricia M. Hamill: Let me be clear: I have not done this alone but have built this practice over the last four-plus years with other partners and associates who feel as passionately as I do about these issues. But, it all started in small part by luck, in large part by a lot of hard work (both on my cases and in learning this expanding and changing area of law), and by ongoing networking. I got my first Title IX case in 2014 (Doe v. Swarthmore, No. 2:14-cv-000532 (E.D. Pa.)) through a referral from fellow attorney and friend, Ellen Brotman, and it received national attention. At the time, there were not many such cases pending. My team and I got a good result for our client and the result received widespread press coverage. After that, our practice picked up with calls from parents and other attorneys not familiar with these types of cases, and we took on both possible litigation matters as well as the representation of students in the internal university disciplinary setting. I was then lead counsel in the case of Doe v. Brandeis University (No. 2:14-cv-532, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43499 (D. Mass. Mar. 31, 2016)), which was heavily covered by the press when the court issued a key decision denying the university’s motion to dismiss, a decision that has been cited by virtually every subsequent lawsuit filed by an accused student. From there, we built a national practice. Many of our subsequent cases have garnered media attention in publications such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsweek, The New York Times and Philadelphia Magazine. When we took on our first case, I also got to know the other practitioners bringing lawsuits on behalf of accused students with the thought that a good result for one was a good result for all, and that group continues to be a source of mutual support and referrals in our practice today.
I continuously speak to various groups in the Title IX legal landscape. I speak regularly at Title IX summits locally and around the country on how to handle Title IX lawsuits and the ever-changing Title IX law. As I do with other practice areas, I spend many nonbillable hours keeping abreast of legislative and case law developments, especially necessary in this field given the hot-button and evolving nature of the field. I also offer a portion of my time pro bono to students who cannot afford an attorney.
TLI: In addition to your advocacy on behalf of clients, you’ve testified before the U.S. Department of Education on Title IX issues and given public speeches on the topic. Do you view your advocacy outside the courtroom as a critical part of your practice?
PMH: Yes, I view my work outside the courtroom as a critical part of my practice. This work has been crucial in developing the practice. I also feel strongly about these issues. Sexual assault anywhere, but particularly on college campuses, is an issue that must be taken seriously. As an attorney, I want to see fair processes for all, and fairer processes lead to greater integrity in results, which benefits all parties to these processes. I have enjoyed being part of widespread changes with a larger impact beyond just the case law and my individual clients. I have also been able to meet other key players in the legal and legislative field through this outreach, and I often speak to those who coordinate or manage the Title IX processes in their colleges and universities to give them a view of the world from the accused student’s perspective. I do this not because it will lead to business, but because I hope my efforts and outreach will help improve these processes and make them fairer for all students involved, whether they have counsel or not. I firmly believe that public advocacy is as important as the litigation efforts to effectuate widespread change.
TLI: What is the best advice you ever received?
PMH: I learned from the best. My mentor and friend throughout my career has been Jim Rohn, our firm’s former managing partner and now chairman. I have modeled my approach to the practice of law after what I saw in him: Put your ego aside and focus on the needs of the client; be a good teammate and acknowledge the efforts of everyone on your team—none of us succeed alone; treat all clients with the same attention and care, whether they are big or small; and give your legal talent without regard to whether it will result in billable hours or business development. If you “do life,” the rest will follow.