Online Cheating Charges at Law School

Misconduct charges of any kind are an especially serious issue for law students. Misconduct risks three years of arduous study, many thousands of dollars in tuition, and the enormous personal, financial, and social value of a long career in law. The law profession holds law students to higher admission standards, refusing licensure when a student shows unfitness or bad character. Seemingly small acts of alleged dishonesty, like failing to disclose accurate information on a law-school application, can interfere with licensure. Read more detail here about law-student issues.

Yet an ever-more-common misconduct risk about which law students nationwide should be aware is the lure of cheating and other misconduct activities online. Every law student facing any form of misconduct charge should know they need to treat misconduct charges with utmost seriousness, including retaining qualified counsel. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento makes it his practice to rescue from misconduct charges the enormous investment and bright futures of graduate and professional-degree students nationwide. Learn here from attorney Joseph Lento about the special and growing risks of law-student misconduct online.

Why Law Students Cheat

Cheating and other forms of academic misconduct happen at every level of education, including graduate and professional programs. Unfortunately, law students also sometimes cheat, despite their generally strong academic skills and good character and the obvious risks of and many warnings against such misconduct. Why, then, do law students still cheat?

One editorial from a law-student advocacy site illustrates what academic studies of cheating generally confirm: the extraordinarily high stakes of single final closed-book assessments, combined with the propensity of law schools and hiring firms to rank students competitively against one another, fuels a win-at-all-costs mentality. Systems that reward successful cheating get more cheating.

Law schools could reduce cheating by increasing the number of exams and lowering their stakes, while evaluating students against standards rather than against one another. Some law schools do. But more law schools don't, instead turning their attention and resources toward catching cheaters. The predictable result is an increase in cheating and other academic-misconduct charges, some of which will inevitably be false or exaggerated charges.

The Former Print Environment

Law school was once a print-on-paper environment. Students lugged heavy backpacks of thousand-page books into quiet corners of vast law libraries to pore over their handwritten notes and other print material. Exams involved furious scribbling in bluebooks in a packed exam room. Rudimentary computers were clumsy and limited tools, banished to special experimental lab rooms.

Misconduct in the print environment took a very different, even quaint, form than increasingly common forms of online misconduct today. Overly competitive students might conceal, steal, or remove critical pages from books or physical banks of print outlines and other resources. They might write notes on tiny cards or the palm of their hand to sneak into an exam room. A student might even attempt to send an impostor into an exam room or pay another to research and write a paper in the student's place.

Rampant Online Risks

Mobile computing and online tools and resources today vastly increase the ability of law students to access and copy materials in their law studies, work, and exams, in ways that violate law school rules. The temptation is far greater when the unauthorized information is just one click away, and the student need not involve anyone else to skirt the professor's and institution's rules. Remote instruction in which everything is online, already common but accelerated in the pandemic, has compounded these online-cheating opportunities and issues:

  • plagiarism through verbatim electronic reproduction with minimal modification to frustrate discovery;
  • self-plagiarism electronically copying and minimally modifying one's same work for credit in two different exercises or courses;
  • electronic conversion and minimal modification of another student's work to represent as one's own;
  • unauthorized use of outside materials for exams, stored on tablets, smartphones, glasses, or watches;
  • unauthorized collaboration or outside support during exams, labs, or other exercises, using remote screen sharing or other apps and devices;
  • electronically fabricating or altering data such as research results, authorities, and citations;
  • electronically deleting, moving, or altering shared resources to deprive other students of electronic access; and
  • electronically facilitating cheating or other academic dishonesty by others.

The Law Schools' Response

Law schools are certainly aware of online cheating. Schools have also taken seriously their responsibility to address it. Deans increasingly enlist the law school's or university's information-technology department to provide tools to frustrate cheating. Sophisticated exam software locks laptop users out of other electronic resources while monitoring the student's keystrokes to alert officials to anomalous activity. Schools train exam proctors to watch remote students on screen as they take exams, or appoint local supervisors to do so.

Law professors themselves have grown increasingly familiar with common cheating-detection tools. They commonly use version-comparison tools readily available in the most-common word-processing programs to see if student work mimics outlines or other writings too closely, indicating plagiarism. Or they may simply copy a student's writing into a Google search to discover plagiarism, copyright violations, and unattributed sources. Many law school misconduct charges begin with a law professor using these simple online tools to confirm suspicions.

How Skilled Counsel Can Help

Fortunately, law schools tend to maintain elaborate procedures for resolving student-misconduct charges, as this example illustrates. Those procedures typically offer a formal hearing before an independent board or decision-maker, to any student accused of misconduct that could result in suspension or dismissal. Law schools are also more likely than other schools to allow the accused student outside representation by a skilled lawyer and to permit that lawyer to present and cross-examine witnesses at the hearing. Some law schools, as in the above example, even permit the lawyer representative to make a closing argument at the hearing, in a trial-like procedure.

Elaborate, trial-like procedures ensure that law students facing misconduct charges can benefit from representation by national law student attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento not only has the expert trial skills and persistent, prepared, and aggressive approach to defeat false or exaggerated charges. His many years of experience representing students nationwide on university misconduct charges also give him strategic insight into how to negotiate or win the best possible outcome.

Retain a National Law Student Attorney

Law students should have representation in any instance in which the outcome of misconduct charges may appear on the student's official record. Law students must discl