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Legal Writing

Introductory resources for legal writing and drafting.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Proper Attribution & Acknowledgement


  • Provide a footnote for any borrowed language, facts or ideas whether quoted or paraphrased in your text.
  • Always give credit for other people’s ideas, understandings & arrangements of materials which you use in your own writings.
  • Acknowledge a source of a fact that you think is common knowledge if it was unknown to you prior to when you encountered it in that source.
  • Acknowledge the first source of a thesis, idea, argument or other content you use—even if you arrived at the idea before you knew of its existence.
  • Use quotation marks if the borrowed language contains fewer than 50 words.
  • Use block quotes when quotations contain more than 50 words.


  • Fail to quote:  Omission of accurate quotation marks.
  • Copying extensively word for word without quotation marks and/or accurate attribution.
  • Using another’s footnotes or parentheticals as text.
  • Using another’s text as footnotes or parentheticals.
  • Using another’s headings without quotation marks and attribution.
  • Echoing another’s explanation, structure, or organization of content without acknowledgement.
  • Using text from a case decision or brief without quotation marks or attribution.  (Text from a case is not public domain).
  • Woven copying word for word from one or more sources.
  • Inappropriate paraphrasing:
    • Unattributed paraphrasing.
    • Misattributed paraphrasing.
    • Woven paraphrasing from one or more sources.
    • Incomplete attribution.
    • Inaccurate attribution.
  • For Law Practice:
    Don’t try to get credit for (or bill for) someone else’s work.  If you use practice materials such as forms, contract clauses, etc., be sure to tailor your final product to your clients’ needs—failure to do so may be malpractice.

Potential Consequences

  • Failing Grade
  • Loss of Credit
  • Delayed Graduation
  • No Graduation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion
  • Temporary or Permanent Notation on Student Record
  • Private Reprimand
  • Public Reprimand
  • Denial of Certification for Moral Fitness for Sitting for the Bar
  • Retraction of Letters of Recommendation
  • Retraction of Diploma (Probably Leading to Loss of Employment)
  • Combination of the above 

Excerpts from the CWRU School of Law Student Handbook


II. Substantive Violations

3. Plagiarism

No student shall submit any written academic work that is plagiarized.

Plagiarizing is knowingly copying or paraphrasing words or appropriating ideas from another’s work without clearly identifying them as the work of another.

“Written academic work” is all writing for which there is the expectation of originality, and which is submitted to the school or under the auspices of the school, whether or not it is submitted for academic credit.

See Commentary on Plagiarism and Interpretive Statement on the Academic Significance of Plagiarism.


10. Reuse of Papers

No student shall use the same or essentially the same paper, or a substantial part thereof, for two courses without notifying the person or persons who are responsible for awarding credit for the courses. If the courses in which the paper is to be submitted are not taken
concurrently, then only the person responsible for awarding credit in the course last taken must be notified. For purposes of this section, “course” means any endeavor for which Law School credit is received. For purposes of this section, “paper” means any written material
submitted for credit (e.g., briefs, memoranda, articles).


Commentary on Plagiarism
  1. This commentary is intended to be an aid to the interpretation of the rule against plagiarism [Law School Code of Conduct II.3].

  2. Plagiarism is one of the most serious forms of academic dishonesty. It is destructive to the institution In which it takes place. It is dishonorable conduct that justifies disciplinary action. It is also conduct that Is inconsistent with the award of academic credit. Plagiarism can result in the denial or revocation of academic credit by the appropriate faculty member or faculty committee whether or not disciplinary action is taken.

  3. The rule forbids submitting work that copies or paraphrases words or appropriates the ideas of another without clearly identifying them as the work of another. Of course, some ideas have such wide currency that all may use them freely; some words, such as proverbs and cliches, are public property. But words or ideas that are clearly identifiable as the work of another may not be copied, paraphrased, or appropriated without proper attribution.

    This does not mean that the words or ideas must be the most important ones or essential either to the work that is plagiarized or to the written academic work that uses them. It does not matter whether they are considered to be descriptive or analytical.

    The random use of a few words that are the same as those found in another's work does not constitute plagiarism. However, copying or paraphrasing even a short passage or appropriating a single idea without identifying it as the work of another can constitute a violation of the rule.

  4. There are few truly original ideas. But that is not a defense to a charge of plagiarism. The rule is defined by the interests it protects. The rule is not so much intended to protect someone else's work as it is to foster academic honesty in individuals and protect the integrity of the institution. Thus,' it is no defense that the material copied, paraphrased, or appropriated was not "original" itself. Whether written academic work copies or paraphrases another's words or appropriates another's ideas is a question of fact that takes into account all the relevant surrounding circumstances.

  5. The rule requires that the words copied or paraphrased or the ideas appropriated must be clearly identified as the work of another.

    This rule does not command the use of any particular system of citation. Plagiarism is not committed simply by mistakes in or deviation from accepted citation form. On the other hand, the failure to indicate quotations with quotation marks, indentations, or some other method, which clearly indicates that the other person's words are being quoted, can be plagiarism even if the source for the quotation is cited in the text or in a footnote. A proper citation to the source of an idea is not sufficient to show that language is being quoted.

    Similarly, it is not a defense to a charge of plagiarism that the written academic work contains some reference to the material that is copied or paraphrased. Whatever citation form is employed must be sufficient to clearly alert the reader that the words are copied or paraphrased or that the idea is appropriated from another's work.

  6. The expectation of originality is an element of the offense. Some academic work may require copying other materials without any attribution. A pleading prepared at the legal clinic, for example, might receive academic credit and yet it might be expected that the student would write the pleading drawing on form books or other pleadings in the files of the clinic without giving attribution to the source. Similarly, an instructor in a seminar might require early drafts of a paper in which the ideas were to be developed, but in which attribution was not required.

    These examples are exceptions. Unless the instructor clearly states that there is no requirement of attribution, all written work, including preliminary drafts, is done with the expectation of originality. The expectation of originality means the expectation that the work will be the student's effort. Originality in the sense that a scholar submitting a paper for publication should be making an "original contribution" to the field is not pertinent to the inquiry whether a student's paper plagiarizes another's work.

  7. Plagiarism requires knowingly copying, paraphrasing, or appropriating. The purpose of the word "knowingly" is to ensure that no one will be disciplined for an act done because of mistake, accident, or other innocent reason.

    Knowingly copying, paraphrasing, or appropriating may be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence. The written academic work itself, together with materials that it draws on, can be sufficient evidence to show the offense was committed knowingly.

    No other intent is required to establish the offense. The intent to deceive or mislead is not required, although the intent or lack of intent to deceive or mislead may be considered as a matter of aggravation of the offense or mitigation of punishment. As with other offenses, ignorance of the rule against plagiarism is not a defense.

  8. Written academic work includes all academic writing, whether or not submitted for credit. It includes research papers or memoranda submitted for academic credit. It Includes Law Review notes and articles submitted to our or to other Law Reviews. It includes essays, papers, briefs, or other documents submitted in contests and competitions under the auspices of the school. Any contest or competition that requires or recognizes the status of the author as a student in this school is under the auspices of the school.
    On the other hand, research work prepared for a private law firm and not presented for credit to the school is not covered by this rule.

  9. Normally, work done in an inside final examination is not governed by the plagiarism rule, but by the rules against cheating in examinations. Take-home examinations, however, are considered written academic work. They are governed by the plagiarism rule as well as the other rules pertaining to examinations unless the instructor specifically indicates to the contrary.

  10. The rule forbids submitting work written in whole or in part by another person without clearly identifying it as the work of another. Payment or expectation of any sort of consideration is not an element of the offense, but may be considered as a matter of aggravation of the offense or mitigation of punishment.

  11. One who writes in whole or in part a paper for another, knowing it is to be submitted by another without proper attribution, is guilty of plagiarism.


Interpretive Statement on the Academic Significance of Plagiarism

The faculty retains jurisdiction to grant, withhold, or withdraw academic credit or status based on credit. The faculty’s jurisdiction in plagiarism cases is independent of any action that might be taken under the Code of Conduct or other applicable disciplinary regulations.

Plagiarism is a form of behavior or conduct that has substantive significance in two separate dimensions, one being its “dishonorableness” and the other being its negation of the fulfillment of academic requirements-in the case of a research submission: that it be the product of substantial efforts exerted by the student submitting it; that it form a basis for evaluating the efforts and thought product of the student submitting it; and, in the case of a submission that may be published, that it contain no obstacles to publication.

A finding that credit has been requested or granted on the basis of a plagiarized submission constitutes an exceptionally strong academic ground upon which the faculty may, and usually will, deny or rescind credit and deny or revoke academically significant status that is contingent upon the earning of credit. Whenever credit or academically significant status is gained on the basis of a plagiarized submission, continued possession of such credit or status constitutes a misrepresentation of academic achievement. Because plagiarism negates fulfillment of academic requirements, faculty authority to withhold or rescind credit or status is not affected by such factors as: the absence of a system to discover plagiarism; student ignorance of, or unwillingness to abide by, the academic requirements, fulfillment of which is negated by plagiarism; failure, on the part of students who participate in the granting of credit or status, to perceive the academic significance of plagiarism or to seek denial or rescission of credit or status when plagiarism appears; or student complicity in the submission of plagiarized work. Neither the nature nor the frequency of such factors can cure the false signals sent by the possession of credit or status gained because of a plagiarized submission.