In an earlier post, I explained why I don’t believe that law students should file anonymous complaints. Here’s a follow-up post. According to an article on law.com, an internal investigation at the university level determined that those anonymous complaints were false. So what we have here is a situation in which a student newspaper published false accusations (which, to my knowledge, have not yet been retracted on the paper’s website, as of 4:30pm today). I see at least two problems: a student newspaper that has published something that is false (and that hasn’t been retracted), and anonymous law students who apparently gave false information to the reporters.
I clearly wasn’t in the discussions between the reporters and the students, so I don’t know if the students said something like, “I think that the professor said X.” If they actually said that “the professor said X,” without proof, that troubles me deeply. (It should trouble the reporters, too, but that’s not my focus here.) But even saying that “I think that the professor said X” is not what responsible lawyers do when making serious allegations. Responsible lawyers make sure that what they say is accurate and truthful, to the best of their ability.
As lawyers, we have certain tools: we have our brains; we have our words; and we have our reputations. Words matter to good lawyers. There is a world of difference between “I think” and “I know.” When we make representations to a court, or to opposing counsel, or to our own clients, or to our colleagues, we need to be precise and truthful. Precision and truth, in this particular situation, seem to have been left by the wayside. And imprecision and falsity should have consequences.
Those accusations have damaged a professor’s reputation, with no consequences yet for those who made the allegations. My question is: what’s the next step here? I can certainly envision a situation in which the state bar could investigate–as part of a character and fitness inquiry–the good faith of those who made the allegations, if the state bar is able to uncover who made the statements. There may be other consequences as well. Time will tell.
I became a lawyer because words matter. My word choice matters. Every time I say something, I am giving my word that what I say is as accurate and as truthful as humanly possible. And words matter in this sad situation, too.