I saw this in Law Notices (our daily campus-wide e-circular) this morning, and I thought it was a perfect example of our honor system and what being a W&L lawyer is all about:
“$3.00 found on the floor at the corner of the carrels by VC3. Shoot me an email if its yours, and you can have it.”
At any other place, three dollars on the floor is a windfall. It’s three more Diet Cokes from the vending machine. It’s an extra latte. But at Washington and Lee, it’s cause for a Law Notice and a dogged search for the rightful owner. This notice might seem trivial, but I think it says a great deal about what it means to be a W&L lawyer. It’s about character. It’s about what you do when you think no one else is watching. It’s about what you do when you just happen to find three dollars lying on the floor in a hallway outside one of our clinics. It’s about your first days as a law student being your first days in a profession dedicated to justice.
As the above notice and comments indicate, the Honor System is a huge part of life at our law school. It has been in place for over 100 years and is based on the fundamental principle that a spirit of trust makes Washington and Lee a unique educational institution. As it is not codified, the Honor System applies to all aspects of campus life, and because of this central defining tenet, our students know they can trust each other, and this trust allows them to relax and simply focus on being law students.
Furthermore, spending three years in a culture where matters of integrity are so central and your word is your bond continue to benefit you as you move forward in your career. Being a good lawyer is all about your professional reputation. It’s about how you are viewed by your peers, and issues of honesty, ethics, integrity and responsibility are central to this perception. Your clients or employer may own the work-product, but your reputation is uniquely your own. It’s the stuff by which careers are made and un-made. No matter how big the city, the legal community is invariably very small, and other lawyers always know who the “good” lawyers are. When people talk to a lawyer who graduated from Washington and Lee, they know they are speaking to an individual who they can implicitly trust and will always conduct herself in an honest, ethical and forthright manner.
The Honor System is student-run, student adjudicated and single sanction. Today, there will be a presentation on the Honor Advocate program, and this group is one of the more popular ways for law students to get involved with W&L’s various disciplinary adjudication processes. The Honor Advocate Program is a student-run organization of law and undergraduate students, and Honor Advocates assist students, accused of an honor or conduct violation, in preparing and presenting their cases to the Executive Committee, Student-Faculty Hearing Board or the Student Judicial Council. They also provide information to accused individuals about additional on-campus resources, which the accused students may wish to contact.
For more information about the Honor System, please consult the Executive Committee’s webpage.