Lots of questions and unease surround the use of ChatGPT in the classroom and education. The issue may be particularly acute for law schools and professors. Law schools are charged with teaching core legal concepts that (should) equip students to practice law. 

Many law school professors reportedly question how they can do that if students can have the concepts laid out for them by ChatGPT. Even ChatGPT questions how this can be done if students can use ChatGPT on such things as exams. 

Says ChatGPT, “Law school exams are typically designed to test a student’s ability to think critically and apply legal reasoning, which is something that cannot be easily replicated by an AI language model. Allowing students to use an AI language model could make it difficult to assess their true understanding of the law and their ability to apply legal principles.”

Some professors (albeit not law professors) have reportedly gone so far as to require students to write first drafts in the classroom, using browsers that monitor and restrict computer activity. And in later drafts, students will be required to explain each revision.

But law schools that think hiding your head in the sand is a good way to prepare students to be lawyers are misguided. (yes, I believe the ChatGPT answer was a hallucination). There’s little doubt that generative AI is here to stay and will impact those in all walks of life. Thinking that law school graduates won’t harness the power of tools like ChatGPT is foolhardy. And those who do will be at a decided disadvantage.

Law schools would do well to think carefully about their mission. The purpose of law school is not to see who is the best writer on a law school exam. It’s not to see who can regurgitate memorized concepts and rules on a final exam.

The purpose of law school is to prepare students to be lawyers. The best lawyers they can be no matter how they use their degree

The purpose of law school is to prepare students to be lawyers. The best lawyers they can be no matter how they use their degree. ( I know. It is a legitimate question. What, in today’s world, is the purpose of law schools are. However, suffice it to say, and for purposes here, law schools are training students to be lawyers. Whether or not they ever actually practice law). 

Law schools fulfill their mission the best when they teach students to apply concepts and rules to unique factual situations and the kinds of unique problems they will face as real lawyers. Law schools do their job when they teach students how to be persuasive. When the show students how to use the tools available to provide good service to clients at a fair price. Above all, law schools should be about teaching students how to find solutions to problems and assess outcomes. It’s what we do in real life.

What does this have to do with ChatGPT? The best lawyers in the future will use tools like ChatGPT to help solve clients’ problems. Law schools need to understand and embrace this. They need to help students learn how to use generative AI and whatever new tools will come available over a lawyer’s career effectively. To have an open mind about technology and be able to assess its risks and benefits. Indeed, the ability to evaluate the risks and benefits of technology is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence. Law schools need to understand that tools like generative AI are changing and will change the profession. Law students need to be prepared for that change.

When I was in law school, no one said don’t use the books in the library like Corpus Juris Secondum to understand legal concepts better. None of my professors said you can only use quill and ink on your exam because that’s how we always have done it. Technology tools are no different: they enable lawyers to do their jobs better and faster than ever. The big difference is that technology changes and creates change more quickly than ever. As my friend Pablo Arrendondo recently said in a webinar on generative AI: “they jump in quantum leaps. I think it’s fair to say that we are now in a new age of the practice of law, one where computers have, essentially, literacy.”

Law schools need to prepare students to be the lawyers of tomorrow, not yesterday

Law schools need to prepare students to be the lawyers of tomorrow, not yesterday. Law school professors need to look hard at how they test law students. Do their exams (and grading) test the student’s understanding of concepts? Do they facilitate thinking and analysis versus recitation? Do they test the student’s ability to use tools like ChatGPT to solve problems and determine the best outcomes? 

The great lawyer of the future will marry their talents and knowledge with a computer so that they can both do what they do best.

To test these things requires teaching how to use available tools. It requires that students demonstrate their proficiency and mastery of core legal concepts and the use of available tools. It requires professors to actually teach these things if law schools are going to fulfill their mission of making students the best lawyers they can be.

Professors: run your exam questions through ChatGPT and see what it says. Then you can assess whether your students are using ChatGPT as a crutch or using it to get a better solution. It means rewarding students when the use tools-whether it be ChatGPT or others–to enhance their analysis and conclusions. 

I go back to something Pablo Arrendondo told me. I asked him if tools like generative AI would replace lawyers. As I previously reported, he told me, “the lawyers that will be replaced are the ones that don’t use these tools.”

The great lawyer of the future will marry their talents and knowledge with the abilities of computers so that they can both do what they do best. Law schools need to devote themselves to preparing students to be those great lawyers.