Cheating in law school is as old as it is troubling. We are a profession that prides itself on integrity, and we should all cringe when we hear of any future lawyer cheating to get ahead. It is even worse when a lawyer assists that law student in doing so.
In the age of the gig economy, it is easy to find someone to do just about anything. Lawyers included. Freelance websites abound, and lawyers are increasingly taking on freelance gigs.
The gig economy has a lot of benefits, but for lawyers it has a lot of pitfalls, too. Simply put, our ethical duties do not cease at the law firm door — our license imposes them wherever we are, even on a freelance site.
Some seem to be forgetting that.
Recently, a law student posted a project on Upwork, a freelance marketplace, called “Law Review Write-On Editing.” The student was seeking an editor, at $25 to $50 per hour, to “ensure my law review write on submission is free from citation and organizational error.”
This should be an immediate red flag to any professional — the student is almost certainly violating (or attempting to violate) the honor code. Adding insult to injury, the Upwork website showed that someone — alas, a lawyer! — accepted the gig, for a fee. What a blatant violation of so many things we hold dear, like our professional integrity.
Although cheating is not new, this freelance gig is particularly significant in two ways. First, it shows that cheating in law school continues and in new ways. The gig economy provides students increased opportunities to cheat through freelance websites and associated global access to a cadre of persons willing to assist them. Second, and perhaps most significantly, a licensed lawyer accepted the law student’s freelance gig. The lawyer, for a fee, agreed to assist the law student virtually to work on the student’s law review write-on competition.
We don’t know if the law student disclosed to the student’s school or if the school permits this type of third party assistance. But we can fairly assume the answer is a hard no.
So what to do? The gig economy for lawyers is an ethical minefield, and this is just another example. Lawyers must jealously guard the integrity of our profession. And that starts with following our own rules. See, for example, ABA Model Rule 8.4(c), which states that a lawyer shall not “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
We cannot fall victim to gigs as an excuse to forget our professionalism and worse, to assist incoming members of our profession to forget theirs.
Beyond redoubling our own efforts to follow the rules, we can also confront situations like this through our state regulators and professional associations. We may need to re-tool our procedures to protect the rest of us from those lawyers and law students who are willing to flout or forget the rules in the gig economy. This may include additional education, increased sanctions, and active monitoring to detect and deter those among us who might abuse the gig economy.