GenAI Is Rapidly Making Its Way Into Law Schools

A study by the ABA of US law schools has found that genAI is rapidly making its way onto campus and changing multiple aspects of legal education. For starters, 55% of responding law schools reported now offering classes specifically designed to teach students about AI.

Courses range from practical applications such as Legal Problem Solving, to foundational classes such as Artificial Intelligence and the Law. Specialised offerings also delve into AI’s implications in particular sectors, such as AI in the Workplace and AI & Innovation Policy, the study found.

Even if law schools were not offering special classes, a substantial majority (83%) of responding law schools now offer students classes or curricular opportunities, such as clinics, where they can learn how to use and not merely learn about AI, the survey report added.

In tandem, a growing number of law schools emphasise hands-on learning with AI, such as in simulation-based classes, or via new types of clinics (e.g., Vanderbilt AI Law Lab, Suffolk Law’s Legal Innovation and Technology Lab), and workshops. Examples of law schools with labs can also see students learn how to use AI to better serve the public (e.g. by assisting court systems and legal aid organisations).

A majority are also considering how they may need to change their mainstream legal courses because of AI. For example, there’s a trend towards integrating AI tools and concepts throughout the curriculum, especially within skills courses, legal writing, legal research, and professional responsibility courses, the study said.

However, when it came to letting students use genAI for admissions, there was a different story. Overall, law schools were either against or unsure about how to handle wannabe lawyers using AI to help write application letters. Moreover, the study found that many law schools were also having to update their policies around areas such as plagiarism to take into account what LLMs can do.

How law schools see things – ABA data.

Overall, this is an impressive trend, and perhaps it’s a reflection of the simple reality that many students will have become familiar with genAI systems such as ChatGPT, and it’s impossible to avoid the subject, or the technology’s impact.

This is in contrast to what were fairly mixed responses to the rise of machine learning / NLP systems in the 2010s, which did lead to several law schools starting legal tech and AI classes and/or clinics, but certainly not on the same scale as the genAI-related impact on legal education that we see now.

And of course, this is just the beginning. How do you teach legal skills when in the coming years accuracy levels of genAI tools will be extremely good across the market; when there are agentic tools that can carry out multiple tasks normally done by junior lawyers; and where the clients – after some delays and concerns – start using genAI at scale across their businesses and expect their lawyers to do the same?

How does a law professor prepare a law student for life as an associate in the mid-to-late 2020s, when genAI and other forms of automation, will be so much part of everyday lawyering?

Some have suggested the focus should be on human skills, i.e. if tech does X% of your job, then become a more empathetic lawyer and leverage that side of your abilities. Another view could be that using genAI tech will become ‘table stakes’, just like using Word, so the focus should be on the basics, i.e. learn the classic skills of being a ‘good lawyer’, and don’t worry about the tech. And one other approach would be to position yourself as a lawyer who is heavily engaged with the tech and so becomes invaluable that way. Perhaps all three are right?

That said, in a world where Big Law firms are still paying mad money to first year associates and then expecting them to work until they collapse, one could also ask if that much has really changed in a lot of the commercial legal world, and whether genAI is changing things, at least yet?