A lot has been said of the trainee lawyers who cheated in the Bar exams. Some of these comments would be that this was an extremely foolish thing to do. Many would ponder over the reasons why these individuals, who were intelligent enough to undergo and complete formal legal education, could not assess the inherent risk and consequences that would follow if they were caught. The idealistic individual would remark that people who do not do their own work or pass exams with their own merit would eventually fall short when they actually get out to practice. The hard truth is that people do get away with cheating, passing off others’ work for their own and in some cases, getting away with murder.
So what then makes a person want to do things right and play within the rules?
We all have a choice of who we want to be. There is perhaps no one out there who can monitor our every move except God himself. In law school, or be it in any school or working environment, there will be instances whereby we will have a chance to gain an unfair advantage over our fellow peers. It is integrity that will keep you within the boundaries of what you should be doing and not venture into trying to game the system. It is one thing to group together to discuss assignments (I do it all the time with some of my fellow coursemates when it comes to essays and PCQs) and it is a whole other thing to try to game the system and come up with innovative ways to say beat the 1000 word count limit for assignments (yes, I’ve seen people successfully game word limits from my time in NUS almost two decades ago till today). Imagine the frustration people like me go through when we try to keep within the boundaries of the assignment word limit. At times, keeping within the word limit and yet keeping all my points in my essay is the hardest part of the assignment.
Doping is a huge problem in sports. I am someone who is very interested and active in fitness and sports. The added advantage of individuals who dope is extremely huge. This is most prevalent when you are in competitions that involve strength and/ or speed. For anyone who has worked out in the gym, you would understand how difficult it takes to gradually improve the maximum weight you can lift for any given exercise. When a ceiling has been hit, it can be extremely difficult to break through that ceiling. Doping, or performance-enhancing drugs, can break that ceiling. The only issue is that if such drugs were allowed, then it would be a matter of who could or dared to take more of such substances rather than who worked the hardest. Those who are caught are likely because they are at the top and it makes sense to test the ones at the top of the sport. This puts to rest that there is doping in the sport but then testing is random and not every sportsperson is tested. It is because of this randomness in testing that we cannot conclusively say that there is certainly no doping in a sport when there is testing.
Passing off other people’s work as your own, trying to game the system, in my opinion, is akin to academic doping. Will you get caught? Not necessarily. Not everyone who cheats gets caught. So then what keeps our system clean? It is a combination of rules, policing of rules and most importantly, to me at least, a huge dose of integrity by those who are moving along the system.
Personally, the law is beautiful because it tries to marry justice with equity. It tries to level out the playing field. The man who steals a loaf of bread from the convenience store because he needs to feed his family is in a different situation from someone who steals to feed his greed. When individuals cheat in law school exams or assignments, I liken the situation to having to feed their greed to do better than what they should have received.
At the end of the day, the only person who really knows whether you did something wrong or not is yourself (For those who are about to embark on the study of criminal law, trust me this will rear its ugly head when you get to mens rea…). The beauty, and the flaw, of the system is that the freedom of choice is inherently up to the individual.