The Honor System

Each year, it seems like something in our Law Notices (our law school electronic news circular) prompts me to write a blog post about our Honor System. One year, it was found money in the Lower Stacks of the library. Another year, it was the finding of three dollars in the hallway outside one of our clinics. We’ve even featured interviews with professors on the topic. A few days ago, this appeared in our Law Notices:

“I was working on Library computers in the Library on Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. I walked away for a second to check what I needed to print and think I may have inadvertently used someone else’s computer as the charges did not show up on my bill when I went to see if I went over the allotted amount. I think I used the computer on the printer side next to the wall, but I’m not sure. If you received a charge during that time that you did not put on your bill, please let me know and I will refund you. I’m so sorry.”

Admittedly, it would have been easier for the student in question to have never said anything, taken the free printing and moved on. However, that’s not what attending W&L Law is about, and that is certainly not what the Honor System is all about. It’s about what you do when nobody is watching. Certainly a valuable lesson for future lawyers and a great preparation for a profession in which matters of character and integrity are central.

If you’ve read the recent blog posts by several of our first-year students about why they chose W&L Law, you know the Honor System plays a significant role in many students’ decisions to attend W&L Law. Students invariably appreciate being able to live and learn in an environment where they know they can trust their classmates and they know their classmates and professors will trust them. The Honor System is one of the many reasons why our students continually remark upon just how easy it is to be a student here.

Sure, the cost of living in Lexington is low. And there are no hour-long commutes (most of our students can make it from their apartment to campus in under ten minutes). Parking on campus is no problem. But more importantly than all of these things, because of the Honor System, students feel comfortable here. They don’t have to worry about competing with their classmates. They don’t have to worry about people ripping pages out of books or hiding books. They know they can leave their laptops, books, wallets, purses, etc. unattended at their carrels and they will be there when they return. These might seem like small things, but they add up. Specifically, they help foster an environment our students consider ideal for learning the law. They minimize the worries, concerns and stress so often associated with law school and allow our students to focus on why they’re really here in the first place: law school.

I’m often asked by prospective students to explain the Honor System. Admittedly, I always find this a bit of a challenge. Sure there are the vivid examples students often observe when they step on campus (valuables unattended, the IOU system at the Brief Stop (the cafe on campus), the relaxed, comfortable interactions amongst the students, etc.). Nevertheless, the Honor System is such an ingrained part of our campus culture, it’s not really something you think (or have to think) about. It’s just what people do here. In many ways, its seemless subtlety is a reflection of its success. It’s just there, quietly shaping and informing every interaction and relationship on our campus.

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