Law schools hold students to the highest standards of academic integrity. Students are expected to be responsible, accountable, and respectful as they represent the educational institution and must adhere to the fundamentals of the legal profession that they aspire to join. At the same time, these students are often highly competitive and some incidents of academic dishonestly have occurred by those seeking to gain an advantage.
Academic integrity is considered to be a central concern across educational settings; however, breaches of trust are particularly problematic in the law school setting as students progress into a career with a stringent professional code of conduct. Legal professionals may face professional disciplinary action for unethical conduct or potentially be disbarred for a criminal conviction.
Institutional Codes of Academic Conduct and Disciplinary Provisions
Students admitted to law school must generally attest to having a thorough understanding of the institution's policies regarding misconduct outlined in the school's honor code or behavioral code. One of the key topics covered is academic integrity. The students are typically required to sign an acknowledgment that they understand the rules and the penalties that can be imposed for failing to adhere.
Expectations for Law School Students
The University of Iowa College of Law has written provisions that provide a practical example of institutional codes of conduct. The details begin by explaining how acts of academic misconduct are contrary to “fundamental norms of legal education” and the profession as a whole. This form of misconduct jeopardizes the law school's mission and may create disadvantages for other students, such as when evaluated by potential employers. The administration will impose appropriate penalties for misconduct, which may include expulsion.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession
The American Bar Association published a guide related to a professional responsibility for those in the legal profession. It explained how an attorney is a representative for their clients, an official within the legal system, and an individual in the community responsible for the “quality of justice.” The role of the legal professional is multi-dimensional, with each directly related to the concepts such as integrity and honesty that must be recognized by students as follows:
- Advisor: Serves to truthfully inform his or her clients of their rights, legal duties, and the probable functional implications
- Advocate: Aggressively representing the client's interests according to guidelines in an often-adversarial environment
- Negotiator: Works with others honestly to create positive results for clients
- Evaluator: Demonstrates skills in making assessments of the legal interests of their clients and honestly reporting them as needed
Potential Disclosure of Misconduct & Bar Admission
Law schools emphasize academic integrity to instill ethics in making decisions and to create a basis for the professional character that will be expected. When the rules of academic integrity are compromised, it represents a serious break in trust. The majority of jurisdictions that are responsible for granting licensure require that any violations of academic integrity be disclosed.
For example, those attending the New York University School of Law are informed of their policy that any violations of the disciplinary code are disclosed to “bar admission committees and others on proper waiver of confidentiality.” This policy also exists at the University of Iowa College of Law, which recognizes that admission to the bar requires “good moral character” and that breaches of proper conduct are of “substantial concern to boards of bar examiners.”Types of Academic Misconduct
Acts of plagiarism may be committed with intent, resulting from negligence, or be unintentional. A student may submit work containing verbatim material from another source without quotations or a reference. It may involve material taken from two sources, while only creating a citation for one. Plagiarism is often viewed as a form of fraud that involves using ideas, images, or recordings as if they were original.
Cheating may occur when a student deceives an instructor or other official that assesses performance. This act of deception creates a belief that the student possesses greater knowledge to enhance their standing. More specifically, students may cheat by having unauthorized access to materials that allow them to covertly obtain information during an exam. A violation may also occur by submitting the same work (or similar) for credit in more than one course.
Collaborative cheating or “collusion” refers to acts that violate academic integrity involving more than one student. These violations are most likely to occur in working groups to create papers or assignments. For example, a group of three students is expected to produce a report; however, one student alone completes all the work.
Working group assignments in law school may be intended to enhance skills in team-building, cooperation, and other ways of working together to achieve goals. Collusion may also result from aiding or abetting one another. Some examples include improper communications during an exam, conspiring to share exam questions, or completing an assignment on behalf of another student. In extreme cases, a student may compensate someone to create a paper for them or involve one student taking an exam for another.
Falsification or Fabrication
Another type of potential violation involves falsifying or improper alteration of documents. A student may create citations or references that are false or do not exist to support their position or findings. It may involve attempting to modify academic documents, grades, or other records, or altering a graded exam and then attempting to resubmit it. A violation could also result from forging the signature of an instructor, professor, or another university representative on a letter of recommendation.
Academic Integrity and Technology
The internet is a tremendous resource for students to efficiently access valuable data and information; however, it has also transformed into a platform for students seeking to take short-cuts, such as by accessing research papers online. Students in higher education tend to be among the savviest users of digital, wireless, and wearable technology, some of which can be used to cheat. Educational institutions have employed some countermeasures, such as through the employment of plagiarism detection software.
Many academic institutions have transitioned to allow students to take classes online and other remote or distance-style learning. This virtual classroom environment poses another challenge to maintaining academic integrity. Some schools have even used webcam technology to proctor students taking exams remotely.
Allegations of academic misconduct are investigated and ruled upon based on the institution's specific written provisions. Most schools permit students to choose an advisor to provide support and assistance. An experienced student disciplinary attorney should be retained for this role. The investigation typically culminates in some form of hearing where the student will answer the allegations and evidence is presented.
Many schools designate a small group of faculty and/or students to evaluate the evidence and reach a decision. Your legal representation can be of tremendous assistance in preparation to ensure you are primed to respond to questions and effectively deliver statements. He or she may potentially engage in discussions with the administration regarding an amicable resolution for your benefit.
Most schools will allow for appealing an adverse ruling; however, written intent is typically required in a short time-frame. The grounds for appeal are usually limited and having assistance from an attorney that is well-versed in this area of practice is critical.
Sanctions Potentially Imposed
If allegations of academic misconduct are proven, the student is likely to face harsh penalties including the following:
- Probation: A defined period where the student is expected to adhere to all rules and any subsequent violations will result in suspension or dismissal from the institution
- Suspension: The student is separated from the institution for some defined period with an option to return
- If amid an academic term, the student can expect to receive no credit for current coursework
- Any tuition, fees, and housing that has been paid for are likely unrecoverable
- The suspension may extend to removal from campus housing, student employment, athletic participation, membership in student organizations, and more
- Dismissal / Expulsion: The student is immediately expelled from the school, not eligible to return, and should expect to lose any scholarship opportunities
Long-Term or Collateral Consequences
When disciplinary sanctions are imposed, the student's record or transcript will contain information documenting the adverse action. This will often impede the student's ability to be admitted into another law school, other graduate programs, and create challenges in obtaining Bar admission and professional licensure. Character and fitness are expected to be beyond reproach for law students, and anything short of a finding of no responsibility can derail a law student's goals.
Importance of Retaining a Seasoned Student Misconduct Lawyer
Many students are incurring more than $100,000 in student loan debt while completing law school programs. Allegations of academic misconduct against a law school student can result in devastating ramifications that can shatter your career goals and create considerable financial problems.
The majority of institutions in higher education today are operating in a highly competitive market and are often facing substantial budgetary constraints. Overburdened law school administrators tasked with handling disciplinary concerns may proceed haphazardly without properly acknowledging the procedural protections they have created. Having support and assistance from an informed attorney-adviser is the best course of action to protect your future.
Attorney Provides Advisory Representation for Law School Students Accused of Academic Misconduct
Are you faced with allegations of academic misconduct? The stakes are high, as they can significantly hinder your plans. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced student academic misconduct lawyer that is familiar with these matters and will ensure you are treated fairly and will pursue a positive outcome. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for more information.