For lawyers — who concern ourselves with rules, and how to navigate within them without breaking them — one of the most interesting features in the New York Times magazine is The Ethicist. Columnist Randy Cohen fields ethical questions from readers and provides insight and advice. (Earlier this year, he smacked me down for an ethical transgression involving Oreos and a hotel minibar.)
When I study in my law-school library, I generally choose a cubicle near a heavily used photocopier that doubles as a printer connected to the school’s computer network. This machine often breaks down — paper jams and the like. If I know it’s not working, must I tell the student about to use it, which means constantly interrupting my own work? Every page printed costs the student eight cents, but she can ask the librarian for a refund.
One response might have been “de minimis non curat lex” (translation: “you have got to be kidding, please get a life”). But that wouldn’t have been very fun.
What did The Ethicist advise?
Randy Cohen wrote in response:
Why don’t you just put an “out of order” note on the machine? You can run off a batch during those joyous interludes when the copier is functioning, so you’ll always have one handy. Or move your seat to another part of the library so you’re not interrupted. Don’t feel bad for missing these simple and thrifty solutions; it need not disqualify you from a career as a lawyer.
“[S]imple and thrifty solutions”? A dose of common sense? Randy Cohen is clearly not cut out for a legal career.
But Jeremy Weg is. Spotting issues (even trivial ones) and fretting over them endlessly is exactly what lawyers are paid for — by the hour, don’t forget.
Readers: If you were The Ethicist, how would you have responded to Weg’s question about the broken copier?
Studying in the Law School Library [The Ethicist / New York Times]