Deterring Students from Engaging in Plagiarism in Law Courses

By Maria Toy, J.D., M.S.

Kaplan University Adjunct Professor



During the first seminar of the term, I warn students in my law courses about the consequences of plagiarism. Students who engage in plagiarism get a zero on an assignment, fail a course, or get expelled from school. Though the consequences of plagiarism are severe, students still engage in plagiarism.  Warning my students about the consequences of plagiarism is not effective, because it does not address the root causes of the problem.

Law courses are challenging for most students. Doing well requires students to have the proper knowledge, experience, and skills. Without these requirements, students would be more likely to engage in plagiarism. When I asked a student why she had plagiarized her paper, she told me that she ran out of time as she juggled full-time work, family obligations, and a heavy course load. No matter how severe the consequences of plagiarism are, they would not have made my student write her paper. What she needed was to learn how to write a paper more efficiently, not to be scared into avoiding plagiarism.

Here are five strategies that law instructors can use to help deter their students from engaging in plagiarism:

  1. Teach students how to cite their sources

Students are required to cite their sources pursuant to APA Style in undergraduate law courses at my university. In order to help students cite their sources, I refer them to APA resources. Despite having access to these resources, students still do not cite their sources. Why? Students have often shared how confusing  APA Style is. Instructors who want their students to cite their sources pursuant to APA must walk through them through the steps that they need to take.

  1. Use hypothetical situations.

Instructors should use hypothetical situations in class, because these examples require students to apply the facts to the law in order to come up with an “original” response. When students are required to engage in an analysis, responses are likely going to differ from one person to the next. Since it is unlikely that students will find these types of responses online, hypothetical scenarios reduce the students’ “need” for plagiarism.

  1. Provide opportunities for students to practice their writing

Writing a paper is stressful for most college students, because they often have limited time to write a paper. Instead of writing their own paper, some of them resort to plagiarism. Instructors should provide students with opportunities to engage in informal writing, so they would be able to practice their writing. By practicing their writing, students would be able to write papers more efficiently in the future.

  1. Share helpful resources with students

Students who plagiarize usually do not understand what is taught in class. In order to deter students from plagiarizing, students should be provided with the resources that they need to learn more effectively. As a law school student, the law dictionary came in handy as I came across legal jargon that I never heard of!

  1. Do not send the message that there is a “model answer”

Instructors too often send the message that there is a “model answer” that they expect students to provide. Given the fact that students do not write the same way, this is an unrealistic expectation. Unable to provide a “model answer,” students will attempt to find it elsewhere.  Instead of expecting a model answer, instructors should tell students that they want a “correct answer.” Though a “correct answer” should contain the same elements, it does not have to look the same as everyone else’s.

Why do you think students in your law courses engage in plagiarism?

What strategy would you use in your class? Why?

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