Paralegal Student or Practitioner? Here's How You Can Avoid Plagiarism

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Giving credit where it's due and seeking second opinions from attorneys are two ways paralegal students and practitioners can steer clear of plagiarizing. Learn the consequences for plagiarism from Globe University's legal program chair.

Brian Craig, legal program chair for Globe University online

Brian Craig is the legal program chair for the online division of the Globe network of career colleges--including Globe University and Minnesota School of Business.

Along with the potential consequences for an ethical violation for lawyers, there are also potential copyright issues with plagiarism and using legal briefs.

An article appearing in the March 2012 edition of the "North Carolina Law Review," Cooper J Strickland, "The Dark Side of Unattributed Copying and the Ethical Implications of Plagiarism in the Legal Profession," 90 N.C. L. Rev. 920 (2012), addresses the issue of plagiarism in the legal profession. While the law review article focuses mostly on the ethical issues for lawyers, it is also important for both paralegals and students pursuing a bachelor of science in paralegal to understand the definition of plagiarism, the potential consequences for plagiarism, and how to avoid plagiarism.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “[t]he deliberate and knowing presentation of another person’s original ideas or creative expressions as one’s own.”
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “plagiarize” as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; to use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Defining and identifying plagiarism can sometimes be a challenge and the situation should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. A standard definition is not possible because of context. One good online source for plagiarism is the website at http://www.plagiarism.org maintained by the plagiarism detection software company iParadigms, LLC that owns TurnitIn software. Plagiarism.org provides the following situations as potential forms of plagiarism: 1) turning in someone else’s work as your own; 2) copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit; 3) failing to put a quotation in quotation marks; 4) giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation; 5) changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit; and 6) copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.

Even if you cite the source, copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work or a large percentage of the work may constitute plagiarism. It is important to have original analysis in any written paper, assignment, memorandum, or brief while still citing sources.

What are the Potential Consequences for Plagiarism?

The conclusion in the "North Carolina Law Review" article states that it is possible for an attorney to commit plagiarism and to be punished for it as an ethical violation. A lawyer can face discipline from the state bar or the state supreme court for plagiarism. The court may also not award attorneys’ fees if the work is not original.

Along with the potential consequences for an ethical violation for lawyers, there are also potential copyright issues with plagiarism and using legal briefs. In February 2012, two lawyers, Edward White and Kenneth Elan, filed a class action suit against the parent companies of Westlaw and LexisNexis for using briefs in the brief banks sold by their respective companies without permission. The case name is White et al. vs. West Publishing Corp. et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-1340.

Students who plagiarize material can face serious consequences. Some of the potential repercussions for plagiarizing material in a paper or written assignment include failure of the assignment, failure of the course, and possible expulsion from the college or university. Be sure to check the syllabus and university catalog for more information on academic honesty.

Two Ways You Can Avoid Plagiarism

Knowing that plagiarism can result in serious consequences, how can you avoid plagiarism? Here are two ways to avoid it:

         1.    Give credit where credit is due: The top way to avoid plagiarism is to properly give credit where credit is due. Citing sources is critical. Learn and use the proper citation formats such as APA, MLA, Bluebook, or Chicago style. Even if the citation format is not perfect, an attempt to cite a source is much better than not citing the source at all. Most people don’t learn how to cite sources overnight and being able to properly cite sources is a good skill you can acquire and develop through time, practice and experience.

         2.    Seek a second opinion: If a paralegal student is unsure if something is considered plagiarism, the student should contact the instructor for clarification. Send a draft of the assignment to your instructor via email and ask for an opinion and review. Just make sure to provide sufficient time for the instructor to review the draft and don’t wait until the last minute before the assignment deadline. If a working paralegal has questions whether a written work is plagiarized, consider contacting the supervising attorney for clarification.

Citing sources, especially authoritative sources, adds credibility and legitimacy to any analysis, especially in the law. In the legal field, legal precedent is critical so it is important to cite those relevant authorities. Many practicing lawyers will often look to recent law review articles or judicial opinions on how to properly cite authorities. When in doubt, it is always better to be on the side of caution and cite the source.

About Brian Craig

Brian Craig is the legal program chair for the online division of the Globe network of career colleges, universities—including Globe University and Minnesota School of Business—and training centers based in Woodbury, Minn. He predominantly teaches constitutional issues, intellectual property, business law, criminal law, cyber law, and legal research. Prior to joining the faculty of Globe University/Minnesota School of Business, Brian Craig worked as an attorney at Thomson-Reuters from 2002-2008. He also previously worked as a legal editor for Wolters Kluwer, judicial law clerk for Idaho District Court Judge Carl Kerrick, and legislative aide for Senator George Runner in the California State Legislature.

Craig has taught legal research and writing at the University of Minnesota Law School as an adjunct instructor. He is an active member of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and an articles reviewer for the American Business Law Journal. Craig is the author of the textbook "Cyberlaw: The Law of the Internet and Information Technology" published by Pearson/Prentice Hall in January 2012. He has also written scholarly articles appearing in the North Dakota Law Review, Real Estate Law Journal, Real Estate Review, Perspectives: Teaching Legal & Writing, and Raven: A Journal of Vexillology.

Craig received a B.A. in political science from Brigham Young University and J.D. from the University of Idaho College of Law.

About The Globe Network of Career Colleges

The Globe network is a premier, family-managed system of career colleges and universities—including Globe University and Minnesota School of Business—and training centers based in Woodbury, Minn. These specialty skills colleges prepare work-ready professionals for successful careers in a wide range of high-demand fields. Through its mission, We Care, the organization integrates hands-on and career-focused education with service- and applied-learning experiences that expose students to their communities and real-world situations. Programs offer undergraduate, diploma and graduate degrees in a wide range of career fields, including a paralegal associate degree, business and accounting, health sciences, legal sciences, technology, creative media and applied arts. More than 30 programs are available online. All academic programs are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). For more information, visit http://www.globeuniversity.edu.

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