Marathons, Ethics, & Cover-Ups

Saturday mornings aren’t conducive to CLE-type posts on the hottest topic in legal ethics.  Especially unusually warm Saturday mornings that beg for a long run. So, before I hit the road, I thought I’d use  two of my favorite topics, running & ethics, to share a message that’s relevant to both attorney discipline and the attorney admissions process.

Like the law, running has its own code of ethics.  The rules & violations run the gamut from innocuous to the “disbarable.”  For example, it’s not cool to start up front if you know you’re going to finish near the back. The first quarter mile of any race is crowded. Faster runners get irritated, and risk injury, having to dodge someone ambling along, not to mention 3 friends ambling along side-by-side as they chat. But this merits only an admonition.

A more serious (and frequent) violation is the all-too-common instance in which a runner wears headphones during a race. Most races ban headphones for safety and insurance reasons.  Runners know this, but justify it by “I can’t run without music.”  True.  Nor can you hear someone asking to pass you or warn you that a car is coming.  Public reprimand.

Finally, like any other profession or activity in which people are involved, running includes cheaters.  How does a runner cheat?  Taking a shortcut. Or, giving a bib to someone who is faster and then using the result as their own.  Cheating often occurs in an attempt to secure a marathon time that qualifies for the Boston Marathon.  Cheating warrants suspension & disbarment.

Here’s what runner-cheats have in common with lawyers who violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or who lie on their applications for admission to the bar: the cover-up is worse than the crime.

There’s a website dedicated to ferreting out runners who cheat. It’s here. Earlier this week, I was struck by a post on a woman who cut the course at the Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon.

The woman apparently needed to finish in better than 1:24:00 in order to qualify for an elite group within her local running club.  So, she took a shortcut that reduced the distance from 13.1 miles to 11.65.  Then, she lost her mind.

Turns out, after taking the shortcut, she finished 2nd. Instead of simply going home, she stuck around and accepted the award for 2nd place.  Around the same time, race officials became suspicious after noticing that she ran the latter part of the race significantly faster than the early stages.  When confronted, the runner denied having cheated.  Then she really lost her mind.

In an attempt to prove that she’d run the full distance, the woman hopped on her bike and rode the course.  As she did, she turned on her GPS so that she’d have a record of having traversed the full race route.  Then, she posted her “award” and GPS data to social media sites, as well as to Strava, a site that runners use to post their workouts and race results.

Even when initially contacted by Marathon Investigation, the woman didn’t immediately fess up.  Not surprisingly though, the gig soon was up.

Her decision to cut the course was wrong.  But her actions following that decision were worse.

That’s how it goes in attorney discipline and attorney admissions.  A Lawyer who violates the rules, but accepts responsibility, is likely to receive a lesser sanction than the lawyer who commits the same violation but then denies it, blames someone else, or tries to make it look like it never happened.  Similarly, applicants for admission who are candid about their past are far more likely to be approved by the Character & Fitness Committee than the applicant who fails to disclose conduct that,  inevitably, will be discovered in the review process.

In each instance, it’s true no matter how minor the violation or the misdeed left off the bar application.  The violation or misdeed is not the issue: it’s the decision to justify it or try to hide it that is.

So, that’s my tips for lawyers and bar applicants.  If you do something wrong, own it. Life will go on.  Not only that, life will go on in a way that turns out better for you than if you try to cover up conduct that will eventually be discovered.