Today’s lesson in what not to do comes from a bankruptcy court in Iowa. The judge there read two briefs filed by the same lawyer, found that they contained “an extraordinary amount of research,” and ordered the lawyer to certify the author or authors of the briefs. The lawyer confessed that he “relied heavily” on an article written by two other lawyers. The judge found the article on the Internet and discovered that “relied heavily” was an understatement:
Seventeen of the nineteen total pages in the pre-hearing
brief are verbatim excerpts from the Article. Mr. Cannon
added some introductory material, a one-page section titled “Argument,” and a conclusion. In between the introduction and
argument, most of the first twenty pages of the Article are
reproduced verbatim. The twenty pages Mr. Cannon reproduced
appear as they did in the Article, with slight variations in
formatting of the type that result when material is copied
from one electronic document into another.
While Mr. Cannon’s post-hearing brief contains more
original material than his pre-hearing brief, it still
continues to borrow heavily from the Article. Mr. Cannon
wrote much of the brief’s text, but reproduced string
citations from the Article for supporting authority. The
citations he selected are presented in the same order in which
they appear in the Article, with the same parenthetical
explanations. Aside from these reproduced citations, Mr.
Cannon did not add any case law in support of his position.
The lawyer suggested that his punishment consist of a letter of apology to the article’s
authors and community service. The court had other ideas, ordering the lawyer to do the following:
- Take a law-school course in professional responsibility.
- Refund any fee collected from his client for writing the briefs.
- Notify the article’s authors of the court’s action and provide the court with a copy of that correspondence.
The court also sent a copy of its order to the Iowa
Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board.
Besides drawing sanctions, the lawyer’s conduct disserved his client’s interests, the court wrote. “[P]arroting a scholarly article in this
way,” the court advised, “is not an effective type of advocacy.”
The moral of this story: When writing, do what a writer does. Write. Don’t copy. If you borrow someone else’s ideas, give an attribution. (Speaking of which, hat tips to The Volokh Conspiracy, TaxProf Blog, and Legal Writing Prof Blog.)