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Monday, March 29, 2010

Plagiarize Legal Work At Your Own Risk

UPDATE 7/5/2014: As it's now election law "court challenge" season, it is time for me to repeat my annual warning to ripoff artists who have previously used my work, from many years ago in some instances, to cease and desist from doing so or else face the full extent of the law.  In light of that warning, I reprise a good column from 2010. 

* * * * * 

Legal work being the product of skilled, highly educated professionals, it ought to be understood that to plagiarize, steal, "crib," expropriate or otherwise exploit, for commercial or personal benefit, such legal work is verboten.  It is so understood, at least by the civilized segments of the profession. 

A while back, two former New Jersey prosecutors (who you'd think either should know better, or must think they're above the law) moved into a new neighborhood and promptly sought the help of one of their new neighbors, a corporate lawyer, to handle some research for a pretty important motion.   The work was done and papers were prepared.   The ex-prosecutors wrote that the work was "great."  The work was used, and papers were submitted.   Everything seemed fine, until the lawyer whose work was used sought payment.   The two ex-prosecutors, one of whom used to run some minority bar association, then tried to claim there was no agreement, and threatened the lawyer whose work they used (yes, we kid you not).   The work was apparently good enough to use.   Apparently, in New Jersey, the example of Frank Abagnale rules the day -- as in the movie chronicling his infamous exploits, "Catch Me If You Can" (starring Leonardo DiCaprio).

The lawyer whose work was plagiarized (or stolen, depending on your perspective) eventually ended up filing a civil suit to seek payment.  (Update: The plaintiff lawyer won at trial and got a judgment against the ex-prosecutors.) Stealing another lawyer's work is a serious matter and should be considered professional misconduct.   Poor economic conditions, recession ethics (i.e., anything goes) and other rationalizations for bad behavior should not be accepted.      

Lesson:   Pity the fool who tries to steal a lawyer's work and pass it off as his own.

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