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Legal Research and Writing Success: When is it Plagiarism?

This guide features resources to help you succeed in LAW I & II as well as any advanced legal research or writing courses you take while at Moritz College of Law.

Moritz Honor Code

Article IV Section B of the Moritz College of Law Honor Code states

"No student shall plagiarize

a. In any written work assigned for any course or seminar,

b. In any work for any intramural or extramural competition of a law-related nature.

c. In any journal sponsored by the College, or

d. In any written work by the student as part of an application, competition, or other process to gain a position on a journal, a moot court team or any other team or group sponsored by, reporting to, or representing the College, whether or not for credit or financial competition."

Per Article V, Section C: "A student who believes that a violation of the Honor Code has occurred shall promptly report his or her belief and the underlying information to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, or, in his/her absence, any member of the full-time faculty of the Moritz College of Law."

What is Plagiarism?

In law school, there is a heavy emphasis on citations. You're not the expert---judges and more senior attorneys are. Quoting and citing judicial opinions actually improves an attorney's credibility. Nonetheless, it can be tempting to turn to outside experts to bolster your legal analysis. If you do not credit these works, you may face plagiarism charges in front of the Moritz College of Law Honor Council.

Plagiarism is more than just copying someone else's words without attribution; copying their ideas and analysis may constitute plagiarism as well. For example, if your professor assigns a fact pattern that relates to notable judicial opinions, and you include in your memo a well-known bloggers' analysis of those cases without acknowledgement, you may face plagiarism charges. (Whether or not it is appropriate to cite blogs in your LAW I or LAW II memos is a separate issue.)

Article IV Section B of the Moritz College of Law Honor Code helpfully defines plagiarism: "Plagiarism means knowingly copying or imitating the ideas or expressions of another and representing them as one’s own. Failure to acknowledge or cite a source which is copied or imitated constitutes the representation that the idea [or] expression is one’s own."

Dartmouth's Institute for Writing and Rhetoric provides these examples:

  • If you quote from a source, you must specifically mark the quoted material and immediately cite the source. Place the quoted text in quotation marks or format it as a block quotation. Your citation should appear at the point of quotation, either in parentheses or in a footnote or endnote. Listing the source in a bibliography does not, by itself, constitute proper citation; you must cite at the point of use.
  • If you quote a distinctive phrase, or even a single distinctive word, place it in quotation marks and cite the source.
  • If you paraphrase an idea or special information from a source—that is, if you restate the idea, but alter the exact wording—you must cite that source.
  • If you use images, maps, charts, tables, data sets, musical compositions, movies, new-media compositions, computer source code, song lyrics, and the like, you must cite the source.
  • If you find a solution to a problem on a website and use that solution—even if you use it just to teach yourself how to solve the problem—you must cite the source.


Academic Integrity

George Washington University School of Law has created an incredibly helpful, detailed Q&A on academic integrity. If you have questions about any of these concepts, consult your LAW I professor.

Citing Responsibly:  A Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism