Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

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Chi-Town-911
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Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby Chi-Town-911 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:25 am

I'm in a class where we go through the discovery process -- each week we'll swap interrogatories and objections, or one side will write a motion to compel and the other side will write a motion in opposition.

This week I was doing some Westlaw research to oppose the other side's motion when I found that the student on the opposing side had lifted multiple paragraphs from a brief in Westlaw. The Westlaw brief (helpfully) is on the exact subject of our motion this week, and he copied almost the entire brief word-for-word without citing to the source.

Two questions:

(1) is this plagiarism? I know it's common practice in real life to copy-and-paste from previous motions / interrogatories / definitions for requests to produce that you or someone at your firm has written on a similar topic.

(2) should I report it? My grade doesn't hinge on this. I can write a good response without letting the prof know that opposing counsel's brief was cribbed from Westlaw. Our school has a discretionary reporting policy.
Last edited by Chi-Town-911 on Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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mjb447
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby mjb447 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:42 am

Maybe you can bring it to someone's attention but frame it as a request for clarification on the scope of the assignment, including what resources you're allowed to use in writing your opposition. If the goal of the assignment is just to come up with the best legal argument using all the tools available on Westlaw/Lexis as it would be in the real world, you're right that this would probably be perfectly fine, even without citing to the source (citing to party briefing in other cases is almost never done in practice). If it's in part a writing assignment to come up with your best original argument using the applicable case law and statutes, it's probably not okay, but it's not clear to me that that's the case or that opposing 'counsel's' conduct was anything other than a mistake about what s/he was supposed to do.

Burlington4174
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby Burlington4174 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:52 am

I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong. Second, it is just a bad look regardless, especially with your grade not being impacted one way or another. If I heard a classmate reported something like this to their professor, I would think less of them. If you really think this is an issue that you need act on, take it up with the other student first. (Though I think doing so would also be unwarranted/unnecessary, and risks antagonizing a classmate.)

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rpupkin
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby rpupkin » Wed Feb 22, 2017 2:47 am

Burlington4174 wrote:I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong.

I'd be quite surprised if the class rules and/or the school honor code didn't directly prohibit what the OP's classmate did here.

That said, I'm not sure I'd bring it to anyone's attention, for the reasons you stated. But I don't think there's any question that the student did something wrong.

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lavarman84
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby lavarman84 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:17 am

rpupkin wrote:
Burlington4174 wrote:I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong.

I'd be quite surprised if the class rules and/or the school honor code didn't directly prohibit what the OP's classmate did here.

That said, I'm not sure I'd bring it to anyone's attention, for the reasons you stated. But I don't think there's any question that the student did something wrong.


I don't know. I don't really feel like what they did is wrong. Seems like a person just trying to get through the class by doing the bare minimum...like many of us.

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rpupkin
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby rpupkin » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:23 am

lawman84 wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
Burlington4174 wrote:I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong.

I'd be quite surprised if the class rules and/or the school honor code didn't directly prohibit what the OP's classmate did here.

That said, I'm not sure I'd bring it to anyone's attention, for the reasons you stated. But I don't think there's any question that the student did something wrong.


I don't know. I don't really feel like what they did is wrong. Seems like a person just trying to get through the class by doing the bare minimum...like many of us.

"Doing the bare minimum" = doing a shoddy job on the brief, not "copying almost the entire brief word-for-word without citing to the source." The skills classes at my law school had explicit rules against doing what this student allegedly did. I of course don't know the rules of the OP's law school, but I'd be surprised if the student's conduct didn't amount to an honor-code violation.

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby BlendedUnicorn » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:23 am

mjb447 wrote:Maybe you can bring it to someone's attention but frame it as a request for clarification on the scope of the assignment, including what resources you're allowed to use in writing your opposition.


Definitely don't do this. Personally, I wouldn't report it. But if you do, don't be passive aggressive about it. While it may be par for the course in practice to lift paragraphs without support, it almost certainly is not in law school. Asking for clarification will just make you look like a spineless snek. If you're going to be a snitch, own up to it.


e. for the record, I stopped reading after the first sentence and assumed a: your grade could be effected by this and b: your school had a mandatory reporting policy. Since both of those assumptions were false, I'm changing my answer from "I wouldn't" to "absolutely not." Legal world is small, you don't want to be known as the snek who stabbed someone in the back for nothing.
Last edited by BlendedUnicorn on Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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lavarman84
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby lavarman84 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:25 am

rpupkin wrote:
lawman84 wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
Burlington4174 wrote:I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong.

I'd be quite surprised if the class rules and/or the school honor code didn't directly prohibit what the OP's classmate did here.

That said, I'm not sure I'd bring it to anyone's attention, for the reasons you stated. But I don't think there's any question that the student did something wrong.


I don't know. I don't really feel like what they did is wrong. Seems like a person just trying to get through the class by doing the bare minimum...like many of us.

"Doing the bare minimum" = doing a shoddy job on the brief, not "copying almost the entire brief word-for-word without citing to the source." The skills classes at my law school had explicit rules against doing what this student allegedly did. I of course don't know the rules of the OP's law school, but I'd be surprised if the student's conduct didn't amount to an honor-code violation.


Maybe. Doesn't really seem different than filling in a template to me. Which is basically what the legal drafting class at my school taught me. :lol:

TragicBronson
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby TragicBronson » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:49 am

1L here. 1st semester legal writing professor essentially taught us to change a few words or even 1 word from quotes in order to not have to quote... she was of the mindset that quoting something was weaker than just saying it yourself, and also apparently of the plagiarizing-90%-of-a-sentence-isn't-plagiarism mindset as well. She was a partner for many years at a big firm in Texas. Essentially, what I'm getting at is that in my (admittedly limited) experience, unless you're writing something where one of the main purposes is to show off the writing itself (academic research or the like), we don't care that much about plagiarism in the legal field and you shouldn't sweat it. But that's just my experience.

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rpupkin
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby rpupkin » Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:16 am

TragicBronson wrote: Essentially, what I'm getting at is that in my (admittedly limited) experience, unless you're writing something where one of the main purposes is to show off the writing itself (academic research or the like), we don't care that much about plagiarism in the legal field and you shouldn't sweat it.

Let's be clear. This isn't about practitioner norms; it's about the academic rules of a school. If, as a practicing lawyer, I'm writing a brief, it's perfectly fine to consult a treatise. In fact, my failure to do so could constitute malpractice. But if I'm taking a law school exam, and if the rules for taking the exam specify that the test is "closed book," I can't consult a treatise. If I'm caught doing so, I could receive a failing grade. I might even be expelled.

So, yes, some degree of copying is accepted in certain contexts in the "real" world. But if your law school has a rule against that kind of copying for the purposes of an assignment, and if you break that rule, you could be in trouble.

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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby cavalier1138 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:30 am

I'm kind of shocked by how many people are defending this asshole (the plagiarizer, not the OP).

The OP isn't thinking about ratting someone out for not spending as much time as possible working on a stupid mock brief. They're thinking about reporting a serious case of plagiarism. Since this is a professional school for adults and not a gang, "no snitching" isn't a rule.

umichman
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby umichman » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:08 am

I would not report the plagerizer because if it is against the rules then there could be huge consequences that might not be worth it. Instead, maybe just tell him/her that its not cool to do that and that in the future he could get in a lot of trouble for it and that he should change the brief.

RaceJudicata
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby RaceJudicata » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:09 am

In the law school context, this is almost certainly plagiarizing. But, I definitely wouldn't tell the professor. A person who does this regularly is eventually going to get caught on their own. Also, I just wouldn't want to be the one who potentially sinks someone's entire legal career before it even got started.

Sorry if thats a "no snitching" policy, but I'd rather not have that on my mind -- regardless of how egregious the person's conduct was. Quite frankly, I don't think I'd report blatant cheating on an exam (assuming it was just one person and not some classwide scheme that could destroy my grade).

grades??
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby grades?? » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:12 am

Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.

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UVA2B
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby UVA2B » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:31 am

grades?? wrote:Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.


Pretty sure the nature of the assignment would out you regardless, as you're the one reading the motion and responding to it. If I'm the professor, I doubt this is some random, well-intentioned student maintaining academic integrity at the school.

I'd probably speak to the other student directly about it and see what they say. Don't be a dick about it and just figure out what they were thinking. If they blow you off about it, then consider speaking to someone about it. It could be they harmlessly thought it was allowed (doesn't seem patently clear to be plagiarism, but I don't know enough to go one way or the other definitively), or maybe they were being plagiarizing pricks and deserve what comes to them.

This profession is all about integrity. Give them the chance to rectify this and/or explain their understanding of the assignment.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:34 am

lawman84 wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
Burlington4174 wrote:I vote no. First, it is not even clear that your "opposing counsel" did anything wrong.

I'd be quite surprised if the class rules and/or the school honor code didn't directly prohibit what the OP's classmate did here.

That said, I'm not sure I'd bring it to anyone's attention, for the reasons you stated. But I don't think there's any question that the student did something wrong.


I don't know. I don't really feel like what they did is wrong. Seems like a person just trying to get through the class by doing the bare minimum...like many of us.

This is dumb. Of course cheating is often trying to get by doing the bare minimum. That doesn't make it okay.

(To be clear, I agree that in practice this wouldn't matter, although I usually try to at least do a tiny bit of paraprhasing. But legal writing class doesn't go by practice rules so I would consider this against class rules. All that said, I don't think it's worth reporting in a discretionary reporting universe. If the brief was so directly on point the prof may have used it in prepping the assignment and will see what happened anyway.)

Chi-Town-911
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby Chi-Town-911 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:14 am

OP here. To clarify, our school has a general no-plagiarism policy that definitely fits what happened here. Neither the syllabus nor the assignment gave any guidance about whether it's ok to copy, but I imagine that copying 10 paragraphs word-for-word in a a 12 paragraph brief would be over the line. BUT it's a practical legal writing class, and who hasn't copied the definition of "document" from the last five interrogatories they sent out?

The assignments are graded by adjuncts, so there is no chance the prof will catch it on her own.

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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby BlendedUnicorn » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:40 am

grades?? wrote:Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.


This is why law students and lawyers are the fucking worst.

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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby Npret » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:45 am

HuntedUnicorn wrote:
grades?? wrote:Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.


This is why law students and lawyers are the fucking worst.

Seriously. Aren't you glad you asked OP? Just worry about your own work. That should be enough to keep you occupied. You have nothing to gain from reporting the other student and you will be causing yourself a hassle.

Just try to be chill and don't send any anonymous letters.

Odds that OP doesn't listen and gets drawn into some hideous complication at school. I'm at 60 maybe 75%.

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mjb447
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby mjb447 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:49 am

HuntedUnicorn wrote:
mjb447 wrote:Maybe you can bring it to someone's attention but frame it as a request for clarification on the scope of the assignment, including what resources you're allowed to use in writing your opposition.


Definitely don't do this. Personally, I wouldn't report it. But if you do, don't be passive aggressive about it. While it may be par for the course in practice to lift paragraphs without support, it almost certainly is not in law school. Asking for clarification will just make you look like a spineless snek. If you're going to be a snitch, own up to it.


e. for the record, I stopped reading after the first sentence and assumed a: your grade could be effected by this and b: your school had a mandatory reporting policy. Since both of those assumptions were false, I'm changing my answer from "I wouldn't" to "absolutely not." Legal world is small, you don't want to be known as the snek who stabbed someone in the back for nothing.

I assumed based on OP's original post, and as it seems a few people who commented after me did, that there was actual confusion about what the scope of the assignment was and whether this was plagiarism/an honor code violation. I don't think there's anything wrong with clarifying that, and it could assist OP in writing his opposition (e.g. if he finds the opposing brief on Westlaw and it's good enough that he would crib from it also if that were okay). Considering OP's most recent contribution, though, that seems unnecessary (he's basically confirmed that point (1) is answered "yes"), and it's really just about whether an instance of plagiarism that won't cause any significant harm should be reported. I don't have any strong feeling one way or the other on that, although I lean toward not reporting for reasons that others in this thread have said.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:15 am

Chi-Town-911 wrote:OP here. To clarify, our school has a general no-plagiarism policy that definitely fits what happened here. Neither the syllabus nor the assignment gave any guidance about whether it's ok to copy, but I imagine that copying 10 paragraphs word-for-word in a a 12 paragraph brief would be over the line. BUT it's a practical legal writing class, and who hasn't copied the definition of "document" from the last five interrogatories they sent out?

The assignments are graded by adjuncts, so there is no chance the prof will catch it on her own.

I don't think it's necessarily true that the prof won't catch it, actually.

But it sounds like you don't think it's a big deal, so I guess I'm not sure what your question is?

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nunumaster
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby nunumaster » Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:16 am

HuntedUnicorn wrote:
grades?? wrote:Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.


This is why law students and lawyers are the fucking worst.


This. Even if he did, it's none of your business OP. Try hard law students are the fucking worst.

RaceJudicata
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby RaceJudicata » Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:48 am

nunumaster wrote:
HuntedUnicorn wrote:
grades?? wrote:Im in the minority here, but I have no tolerance for plagiarism in school. I 100% understand what happens in practice, but if the assignment doesn't allow copying, then this person should be held accountable. Now, I wouldn't necessarily out myself to the professor. Send an anonymous letter or something suggesting what happened. That way there wont be any backlash on you. Sounds scummy on my part I know, but if the assignment didn't allow plagiarism, then you should say something.


This is why law students and lawyers are the fucking worst.


This. Even if he did, it's none of your business OP. Try hard law students are the fucking worst.


I LOVE the fact that Grades is willing to report the other person, but isn't man/woman enough to be forthright/non-anonymous about it. I'm glad there are some students/lawyers out there taking this noble stance.

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pancakes3
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby pancakes3 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:55 am

what kind of plagiarism are we talking about here?

"the standard for summary judgment is XXXXXXXX. some guy v. some other guy, 123 F.2d 456, 789 (D.D.C. 2017)."

or something more?

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mjb447
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Re: Should I report extensive plagiarism in opposing student's brief for mock trial class?

Postby mjb447 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 12:03 pm

pancakes3 wrote:what kind of plagiarism are we talking about here?

"the standard for summary judgment is XXXXXXXX. some guy v. some other guy, 123 F.2d 456, 789 (D.D.C. 2017)."

or something more?

(that's a really long opinion!)




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