Law schools take a lot of heat for not preparing students for the actual practice of law. They are rightly criticized for ignoring how technology and innovation are changing the profession. This failure is particularly acute when it comes to generative AI. Some law schools have engaged in a lot of handwringing and schemed how to keep students from using Gen AI tools. Others have just put their heads in the sand. But a handful of law schools have been proactive, recognizing how Gen AI may change how lawyers practice and work.
One such school is Vanderbilt University’s Law School. Nestled a short walk from Nashville’s bustling downtown, Vanderbilt’s Law School created its Program of Law and Innovation several years ago. It was the brainchild of Cat Moon and Larry Bridgesmith. The idea was to create a learning space within the law school for innovation and collaboration.
Out of this innovation and collaboration effort grew the Vanderbilt AI Law Lab (VAILL). I was fortunate enough to attend a launch of the initiative last week. The VAILL initiative, spearheaded by Cat Moon and her co-director, Mark Williams, is a bold step into the uncharted future of law with tools like Gen AI. Moon says the launch was the first of many events designed to bring the legal community into the school and the work at VAILL.
In Moon’s view, this community must include technologists, students, lawyers, educators, and designers. These are the people who represent the diversity in thought, experience, and expertise needed to leverage Gen AI and fully prepare students for the future.
The event was a testament to VAILL’s commitment to collaboration. The audience included many in the Nashville tech community (which itself is vibrant) and beyond. The diverse audience highlighted the widespread interest in this intersection of technology and law in general and Gen AI in particular.
Expert Discussions: The Future of AI in Law
At the outset, Cat Moon discussed the initiative and its goals. According to Moon, Gen AI will fundamentally change the profession. Moon believes at the core, law schools are charged with preparing students for this profound change. Moon rightly insists that the task of law schools is to impart a certain mindset in its students.
Students will need a mindset that enables dexterity and agility to effectively deal with the inevitable changes Gen AI and other technologies will bring. This mindset, says Moon, requires students to embrace three things:
- Curiosity-The mindset of not knowing everything and being ok with it.
- Creativity-Not being limited by how things have always been done.
- Collaboration-Partnering across disciplines, within legal and beyond.
Lawyers have historically not been good at any of these three things. And that’s what Moon and Williams want to change with VAILL. They want to fully prepare students for a changing world, a world where their most valued assistant may be very well a machine.
Moon and Williams recognized that to prepare students for this world and create the right mindset, they needed to create a safe place. A place where students (and others) can experiment with tech tools. Their goal is for VAILL to be that safe place.
Also, at the launch, a diverse panel composed of Williams, Vanderbilt Law School Professor Cara Suvall, and from Vanderbilt’s Engineering School, AI expert Dr. Jules White provided a deep dive into AI’s ethical implications and future possibilities in legal practice. Their discussion was informative and thought-provoking. It set the table for the potential future of law and technology.
Transforming Legal Practice with AI
To reinforce how a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and collaboration can impact the practice, Moon and Williams invited Greg Siskind, a Memphis-based immigration lawyer, to demonstrate his AI-powered platform. As always, it’s one thing to hear about the potential of AI in law but quite another to see it in action.
Siskind showcased a process tailored to his practice that, with the help of AI, reduced a typical 12-14 hour task to just about an hour. This demonstration wasn’t just impressive; it was a glimpse into a future where legal practice is exponentially more efficient. Interestingly, Siskind told the group that he does not let beginning lawyers use the program until they are sufficiently acquainted with substantive immigration legal issues and have some actual experience. Like others, Siskind believes that to do otherwise risks getting poor results from Gen Ai systems.
A Day of Learning and Networking
The event was about more than just presentations and discussions. Moon and Williams have created a vibrant space for networking, learning, and sharing ideas. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable. And the conversations I had with fellow attendees afterward at the networking reception were as enlightening as the formal presentations.
Takeaways for the Future
The launch of VAILL is not just a milestone for Vanderbilt University Law School; it’s a model for how law schools should approach training students for the legal profession. The promise of AI in enhancing the delivery of legal services and making them more accessible can be transformative if lawyers approach it correctly. AI will play a pivotal role in future practice, and I’m thankful for law schools like Vanderbilt that recognize this and want to get students ready.
Here’s to a future where innovation makes law better for everyone.