A Legal Industry Built on Private School Sex Abuse

While many firms have done just one or two of these investigations, a few major players have emerged in the field, including T&M Protection Resources, a global security firm that has worked for Milton Academy in Massachusetts and Pingry . The firm bills its services on its website by saying, “we investigate the true nature of sexual misconduct claims, promoting justice for alleged victims and those accused while limiting liability for institutions.” There is also Holland & Knight, a firm with two dozen offices around the country, whose inquiries include one for Phillips Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire.

Gina Maisto Smith and her partner, Leslie M. Gomez, of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia-based firm, have worked with more than 400 institutions doing investigations, developing policies and offering legal advice — colleges and universities, dozens of K-12 schools, as well as religious institutions, camps and businesses. Ms. Smith, a former sex crimes prosecutor, founded the practice more than 10 years ago to focus on how institutions respond to abuse and discrimination. They recently completed two reports for the Emma Willard School, a girls boarding school in Troy, N.Y.

Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez argue that expertise is crucial in their field, where laws are complex, interviewing is delicate and there is a body of child abuse research to master.

“It’s not only the process of these investigations but what we do with the information, how do you weight it, how do you value it,” Ms. Smith said. “We have a better sense of context of these cases by doing thousands of them, as opposed to one or two of them.”

But critics say that the firms, often described by administrators as “independent,” can be too close to the schools they are investigating. Ultimately, it is the schools that pay their bills, and decide what information will be released.

“If they do this full time, there is a perception issue, that they’re not going to draw tough conclusions in all cases,” said Roderick MacLeish, a lawyer who represents victims of abuse at private schools. “If you’re going to keep doing this, how tough are you going to be on some private school client, when you are basically marketing yourself for other investigations in the future?”

Even the firms that conduct them acknowledge that the investigations are not free of conflict.

“It’s important for institutions to be careful about the word ‘independent’ and be transparent about what…

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