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Putting your legal career on the line

Putting your legal career on the line

By Stephanie Pasharis


Academic misconduct can affect your fitness to practise law.

With greater access to information online and growing reports of students purchasing ghost written assignments, academic misconduct is an increasing concern for students and universities.

Academic misconduct typically involves situations where individuals seek to gain an unfair advantage through activities such as plagiarism, collusion and/or cheating.


Plagiarism is essentially theft. It is taking and using another person’s ideas without proper reference. For example, you find a great journal article where the author provides an insightful opinion about a recent court case. The case is directly relevant to your assignment topic. You use the opinion in your essay without referencing the author or the journal article.


Collusion is unauthorised collaboration with another individual. If the assignment instructions specify that it is an individual task, and you and another student talk about the legal issues in question, or discuss the conclusions you both reached, you are colluding.


Cheating is obtaining an unfair advantage through unpermitted activities. Cheating takes many forms, from using an unauthorised calculator in an exam to possessing a phone during an exam to submitting old assignments that you have previously submitted in the same or a different course.

How misconduct is investigated

If an allegation of academic misconduct is made, you will be notified. Many universities have committees tasked with investigating allegations of academic misconduct.

These committees will examine the submitted work and give students an opportunity to respond to any allegations. If the allegations are proven, the appropriate disciplinary panel may impose a penalty. The penalty will depend on a range of factors including the severity of the offence, the personal circumstances of the student and the need for deterrence.

The far reaching implications of misconduct

If you are found to have engaged in academic misconduct, you may:
receive a zero grade
fail the unit
be suspended or even excluded from your university.

However, the detrimental impact of a finding of academic misconduct does not stop once you graduate. Dishonesty, even before admission, has the potential to cast doubt on your fitness to practise, which could jeopardise your admission application.

In Re OG (A Lawyer) (2007) 18 VR 164 a lawyer was struck off for failing to adequately disclose a finding of academic misconduct at university. It was held that the prior academic misconduct and the subsequent inadequate disclosure reflected adversely on their fitness to practise law.

As an agent of justice so many parties in a legal matter must be able to rely on a lawyers’ honesty – the court, their client and other lawyers. If you commit acts of academic misconduct, you are demonstrating a lack of integrity which will hinder the administration of justice and the court process as a whole.

An adverse finding of academic misconduct during university has the potential to detrimentally affect your legal career in the long term. Not only may it jeopardise the successful completion of your university degree, but the investigation will also appear on your student conduct report, which is submitted to the Victorian Legal Admissions Board during the admission process.

As academic misconduct can be unfavourable to the assessment of your fitness to practise, inadequately disclosing any investigation may result in the refusal or your admission or the striking off of your name from the Roll of Practitioners.

What should you do?

It is essential that when you commence a new course or unit, you become familiar with your university’s academic misconduct policies. You should also be aware of the requirements and prohibitions for each assignment you complete. This includes ensuring you are still compliant when undertaking group coursework.

It may also be helpful to speak to your university’s student services. They will be able to provide you with further information about your university’s current policies.

Stephanie Pasharis, Member, YL Editorial Committee

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