Over her career, Atlanta attorney Alexa Ross has helped build two successful law firms and a law firm consulting business designed to make her clients more successful overall and profitable. Additionally, she has a unique practice that accounts for some of the work she’s most proud of and passionate about: Righting the wrong when a student is falsely accused of misconduct or crimes by schools or universities.
It’s work she’s been doing for nearly two decades and is especially good at it, she says, because many of her clients have been academic institutions, giving her the advantage of knowing how the systems work.
The problems typically arise from two types of situations. The first is when a student is flat out wrongly accused of something such as drug use, rape, or cheating. The university or school has an obligation to take action to protect all students, and Ross sees to it that the accused student is protected while the institution investigates. For example, stamping “involuntary withdrawal” on a student’s public record will strip the student of his or her life goals. Ross has been able to change university policy so that a student who is only accused has a clean record.
The second situation is when the student inadvertently breaks a rule or just takes a risky chance. As Ross put it, it’ll be something the parent can’t believe their kid did, such as cheating on an exam or smoking pot in the dorm, but nothing, she insists, that indicates they are bad people or incidents that should adversely affect their future.
In one of the first such cases she took, Ross recounted how she received a call one day from a young man attending a prestigious university who had just been expelled from his doctoral program for failure to make academic progress, despite a 3.9 grade point average. She soon learned that prior to entering the program, he had just recovered from a year-long coma after a car accident, resulting in minor disabilities.
Recalled Ross, “He had just learned how to walk again, how to talk again. He had to rebuild his life, and he was making a 3.9. The program said he ‘just didn’t fit in.’ Something didn’t sound right, and something wasn’t right. He was the only Iranian and only Jew in the program. So, we had this Iranian-Jewish kid who had disabilities, but he was making a 3.9. This kid’s situation broke my heart. It took a couple of years, but we got the exact result we wanted. He got to walk out of school with a clean record because that’s what he deserved.”
She continued, “I have represented private schools, universities, and public schools – so I know things other attorneys have no way of knowing. I know how it works from the inside. You have to be able to protect the student from having something false travel with him or her and ruin that person’s life. But you have to realize,” she added, “that the institution has to have a way of knowing what truly happened because it has to protect itself and other students, too. I am very lucky to have the respect of leaders of educational institutions and universities because they’ve worked with me. It’s about doing what’s right for the student and the institution.”
A few months ago, Ross left Robbins, Ross, Alloy, Belinfante, Littlefield, where she had been a partner since she founded it in 2008 with Richard Robbins and joined a partnership with Marc Taylor of Taylor English. The two created a firm called RossTaylor which is doing business as Alexa Ross Consulting and specializes in making law firms of any type, but especially education law firms, more profitable and better places to work.
“We get rid of attrition. We make them A-plus top to bottom because he [Marc] and I have both built law firms and done this,” she said.” Law firms are notoriously stress laden places to work, but they don’t need to be. They can be great environments, and the bonus is they’re more profitable when they’re great environments.”
Ross, who graduated first in her law school class at the University of Florida in 1990, is excited about her new business with Taylor, but says she will always make time to help students in need of legal support, who find her strictly by word of mouth.
“Regardless of what other business I’m doing, I’ll continue to do this practice because I love this. It’s fulfilling. It keeps these things out of court usually, which is great for everybody.”