Friday, February 18, 2005

The Ethics of Beverages 

NESL has a policy of no food in the classrooms, and no beverages unless they are in spillproof cups. This policy is posted on the door to every classroom.

Now, this policy does get pushed. Evening students who arrive at school directly from work and haven't had time for dinner do tend to make the most of those 10 minutes between classes, and will polish off their brown bag sandwich at their seat. I got a little lazy last semester and sometimes didn't bring my Starbucks Extreme Tumbler, and would instead simply use the paper cup with the splash guard lid. I learned my lesson the hard way, though, when I indeed spilled one of those cups on my computer during class and was reminded of how those splash guard lids simply eject on impact. Occasionally someone will spill a cup on the table. But that person will generally do as I did - calmly get up without disturbing the class, get some paper towels from the restroom, and clean up the spill. And vow never to forgo the actual spillproof mug again.

Until last evening during Law and Ethics of Lawyering. A guy I have dubbed Homer Simpson because of his unfortunate facial similarities to that character (except he still has his hair), plus the even more unfortunate similarity when he speaks, had a "D'oh!" moment when he accidentally knocked his grande Frappucino off the desk and it splatted on the nice new carpet. Rather than just getting up and dealing with it, Homer instead just put his face in his hands. The professor paused momentarily and said, "Well, there's no use crying over spilt coffee. I'm supposed to remind you about the spillproof cup policy." And then he continued his previous discussion. Homer simply returned to his notetaking. Many of us sat there staring in disbelief, with the words, "Aren't you going to clean that up?" hanging just inside our lips, but not making it out.

Over the next hour and forty minutes, the icy, creamy, coffee laden beverage slowly seeped its way into the carpet, with nothing but a plastic cup and a wet spot left by the end of class.

One of the topics of the day was the duty to report. After establishing that we all agreed that a person who is regularly overbilling lots of clients should be reported, he modified it and asked how many of us would report a colleague who had overbilled one client by one hour. Nobody raised a hand, and eventually he admitted that he didn't know of anyone who would turn someone in for that, although even that is a violation that we are obligated to report, and even though if we saw that person steal $250 directly from the client's wallet we wouldn't hesitate to turn the attorney in. He then asked if anyone could defend the position we all took about not reporting the single hour overbiller.

Via IM conference I suggested to a couple of classmates that it's for the same reason that not one of us spoke up when Homer didn't clean up his wallow. It's just not worth the trouble. They concurred. It drove us crazy, we all thought it was wrong and really wanted to do something about it, but this professor has a habit of shutting you right down if you interrupt him or make any statements not directly in response to the question he has posed. It was clear the professor, who is a judge by day, didn't consider this breach of school rules and hygiene to be important enough to merit any kind of functional response. Who wants to contradict this man in whose hands our grades rest, and before whom we each might find ourselves standing in court in the not so distant future?

It's just not worth it. But we'll see if we change our minds when the dairy portion of the spot starts reeking. And what we'll think any number of years from now when an attorney we let slide over that single hour decides to try it again. And again.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 8:54 AM