What To Know About Law School Honor Codes
If you’re a newly admitted law student or an up-and-coming 1L, there are probably a multitude of things on your mind. These things might include where to get the best deal on law school textbooks or what student organizations you want to be involved in while in law school. However, something else that’s probably worth some of your attention. We’re talking about your law school’s honor code. Every law school holds some variation of the honor code, and it might even be discussed at student orientation. So what should you know about your law school’s honor code? We discuss this in more detail below!
What To Know About Law School Honor Codes
Your law school’s honor code is essentially a roadmap for how students should conduct themselves throughout their three-year (or more!) journey. For example, qualities such as candor, good faith, and treatment of fellow law students are all likely to be covered. Your law school’s honor code also focuses heavily on prohibited conduct, such as cheating, plagiarism, and other dishonest behavior. Students are expected to adhere to and uphold their law school’s honor code.
1. Law students take them seriously.
By now you’re probably wondering if students actually do take law school honor codes seriously. The short answer is yes. Law school faculty, staff, and students are all expected to play by the same rules. Anytime someone is caught breaking those rules, it’s a big deal that can have very serious consequences. Take for example the issue of cheating in law school. While undergraduate colleges and universities take cheating seriously, law schools are on a different level. Cheating is a violation of every law school’s honor code and is grounds for disqualification from law school altogether. That’s right, one instance where someone is caught cheating can most definitely result in them getting kicked out of law school. Every student in law school is expected to operate under the same set of rules. Attempting to circumvent those rules is a major no-no.
Part of the reason law school honor codes are taken so seriously is because they’re closely linked to legal practice. Attorneys are faced with ethical dilemmas on a nearly daily basis and must adhere to professional codes of conduct. As a law student, while you may not be practicing law yet, you’re still expected to act ethically. Showing you can follow your law school’s honor code isn’t only required, but great practice for when you’re a lawyer. Take the cheating example we mentioned above – If you’re caught cheating in law school, it speaks directly to your moral character. It shows that you’re willing to bend the rules to get ahead, even if it disadvantages others. This behavior might not only impact your law school career, but it could also impact your ability to become a licensed attorney.
2. Peer reporting and oversight are important in law school.
Another way your law school’s honor code is linked to life as an attorney is through peer reporting and oversight. Throughout the practice of law, attorneys are generally responsible for ensuring that other lawyers stay on the straight and narrow. Anytime a lawyer commits an ethical or moral violation, it’s up to another lawyer with knowledge to report it. Failing to do so can be a violation of the ethical code of conduct in and of itself. The operation of the honor code in law school works much in the same way. Students who know about another classmate’s violation of the honor code should, and usually do, report it right away. This ensures that everyone is playing by the same set of rules. Playing by the same rules matters when job interviews, grades, class ranking, and other serious considerations are on the table.
3. Violations can show up on your moral character application.
All of this leads to the last point we want to make about your law school’s honor code. More often than not, a violation of your law school’s honor code will be reported on your moral character application. As we alluded to above, acts of cheating, plagiarism, and dishonesty speak directly to your moral character. That means law schools will almost certainly report these types of acts to your governing State Bar. In the worst case, these violations of the law school honor code will delay or prevent you from practicing law. Worse yet, many law schools have policies of reporting these types of violations to employers participating in on-campus interviews. The legal community, even in large cities, is often a tight-knit group. That means serious violations of the honor code can spread from firm to firm, making getting a job harder.
If you’re ever unsure of whether something falls under your law school’s code of honor, just check. Many times, codes of honor are posted in various locations for students to reference. You can also discuss certain sticky situations with law school staff, who are often well versed in handling potential violations. All in all, violating your law school’s honor code is not something you want to do. Be respectful, kind, courteous, and play fair – if you can do that, you won’t have any problems at all.
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