Let's assume that plaintiff and his attorney wrote a complaint and sued you in a state court. You later discover that plaintiff has brutally copy pasted multiple paragraphs from a different, unrelated complaint filed several years ago by a different attorney that he does not even know.

Are there precedents where attorneys that have heavily borrowed multiple paragraphs from other complaints have ever been punished? Do there have to be gotchas (e.g. misfactual information presented in copy-paste'd complaint)?

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    It is estimated that 70% of legal writing is plagiarized. If it works, plagiarize it!
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


As long as the document filed in court is factually accurate in the current case, the fact that it is copied from a document filed in a previous case is usually unobjectionable. Rule 11 notes various things that an attorney is certifying when a pleading is signed. Originality is not one of them.

It is far more serious in legal writing to claim that material is quoted when it is merely a paraphrase, than to quote without attribution. The former exaggerates the authority of a statement and makes a false statement of fact.

Unless there was something special about a pleading that implied that it was original when it was not, it would almost never be a problem. But, it would be very rare that this is the case.

As functional writing with common sources, it also wouldn't be easy to distinguish true copying from independent production of very similar content.

  • sdcba.org/index.cfm?pg=Ethics-In-Brief-1-6-14 <-- How about this one? Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:30
  • @HansSolo The article says it is not at all clear that a CA court would sanction a lawyer absent another hook that made it problematic, and suggests that while the NY case cited on its surface is a straight plagiarism sanction, it is raised only in the context of a deep competence issue and cites only the residual "conduct unbecoming" rule of professional ethics (8.4). If the plagiarized brief weren't otherwise shoddy, I doubt it would have been sanctioned.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:39
  • Interesting find: the court reduced it to "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation". Plagiarism per se, as standardly defined in academics, is much broader than dishonesty.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:44
  • nydailynews.com/news/national/… <--- Another one Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:45
  • @HansSolo Without reading the judge's ruling it is hard to tell if plagiarism is the actual basis for the court sanction, or if the author are the article merely confused a circumstance that was part of the conduct that resulted in the attorney facing a modest monetary fine that was ultimately based on other grounds (e.g. a frivolous or groundless argument or a lack of attorney competence). Large scale undifferentiated borrowing from generalized legal sources without applying them to the particular facts of the case is usually incompetent and unpersuasive, even if not otherwise unethical.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:52

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