Coincidence? I Think Not! Experienced Attorney Learns The Costs of Plagiarism

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How should they know? (Image via Getty)

Today’s episode of You Thought No One Noticed focuses on a special guest whose name should be the touchstone that all future legal writing teachers use to demonstrate that plagiarism is a taboo. Not only can it cost you the respect of your readers, it can hit you where it really hurts – in your wallet! From the ABA Journal:

A Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled that an attorney who copied part of her opponent’s motion into her own lawsuit faces a fine of more than $8,400. US District Judge Gene EK Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania imposed the sanctions on Attorney Christine E. Munion in an Oct. 17 opinion and Oct. 17 order.

One of the shocking moments of making the transition from legal writing in law school to legal writing in the real world is realizing that there is a lot of copying, pasting and collaborating in these law firms. A juuuuge caveat with this is that the copying and collaborating is usually done by people working together on the same or similar topics. Maybe move a few words around, change the names of the plaintiffs or defendants to who you actually represent, stuff like that. Here, Munion chose to simply sidestep all of those traditional reservations about the “don’t copy someone else’s homework” rule.

The copying was “neither minor nor subtle,” Pratter said.

On the day of the deadline, Munion filed its own motion to bar lay testimony from plaintiffs Gene Stilp and Stephen Connolley. She cited the same reasons as the plaintiffs, but the similarities didn’t stop there, Pratter wrote. Virtually every paragraph of Munion’s motion and brief “contain verbatim” from the plaintiffs’ motion, the judge said.

Pratter said the plagiarism was obvious because Munion even included the plaintiffs’ editing errors — two missing closed quotes and a missing space. In some cases, she also failed to change the names of the parties.

Pratter said Munion admitted to copying and acknowledged responsibility “when it became clear that all escape routes were ruled out”.

Similar to getting caught insulting an opposing attorney, you don’t get cool points for admitting you stole someone else’s thoughts and words by admitting you got caught just because there was no more plausible denial . Missing deadlines sucks, but trust me – getting caught asking for an extension is far less embarrassing than hoping your co-workers didn’t read that article about you in Above the Law.

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For readers, students, and attorneys alike, I leave you with the judge’s conclusion:

“The exercise of the law is not easy; it requires thorough research and writing, almost always to a deadline,” Pratter wrote. “Fast processing does not excuse an attorney’s ethical duties to the court, and there is never an excuse to appropriate another attorney’s work — let alone a counter-attorney — and pass it off as your own.”

Lawyer sanctioned for rescinding passages from opponents’ motion; Copying was “neither easy nor subtle” [ABA Journal]


Chris Williams became social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Before joining the staff, he worked part-time as Little Memelord™ on the Law School Memes for Edgy T14s Facebook group. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in the St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boat builder who cannot swim, a published author on critical racing theory, philosophy and humor, and has a love of cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can email him at [email protected] and tweet at @WritesForRent.

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