By: 8 May 2024
Embracing AI in legal education: a necessity for tomorrow’s lawyers

Patrick Grant, senior lecturer, The University of Law.

Inclusivity and AI are difficult bedfellows, especially in law. We see magic circle firms embracing GenAI, with examples like A and O’s Harvey, but we also know that smaller firms, especially those specialising in legal aid, simply don’t have the resources to look at this.

 

How will AI affect future legal professionals?

Reactions from the profession to the sudden influx of AI are a mixed bag too. The Legal Trends Report 2023 highlighted that 41% of legal professionals “expressed uneasiness regarding potential professional liability issues following AI integration, while 57% voiced concerns about client privacy and confidentiality implications.” The Thomson Reuters Institute reports that 82% of legal professionals think that AI can be used in legal work, but only 51% think that it should be used.

The truth is that it is hard to give a blanket message to law students in 2024 that you will all be using AI in your working lives. Some will, some won’t. In a wider context though, there is an inescapable certainty that AI will change the world more than anything that’s come before.

 

AI world domination

The academic and AI professor Stuart Russell, whose chief concern is our ability to control our upcoming creation, compares the arrival of superintelligent AI with the arrival of an alien invasion from outer space. He suggests that if you tell an audience the alien invasion fleet will arrive in 30-50 years there’d be pandemonium, yet faced with the far more probable arrival of superintelligent AI there’s a sort of complacency.

This is exacerbated by the fact it is all coming at us so fast. In a recent round table meeting with the Law Society, one of the key takeaways was how law students are unsure of what to make of AI, written up in the Gazette as “Generative AI – Law students call for guidance”. This is wholly understandable.

I have thought about this a lot and realised that is that it is not commonplace to spend hours learning how tools work. No one tries to understand the process of using radio waves to heat food because involves complex physics. We just stick the popcorn in the microwave and wait a few minutes. The problem is that microwaves have, as yet, not revealed their plans for world domination.

So in many ways, if Russell is correct, we all must learn about AI. If we all understand AI and where it is going, then our Frankenstein’s monster, if that’s how you choose to see it, can not only be inclusive but almost be democratised.

In education terms, there’s a common thread too. We all need to be au fait with the knowledge, understanding and ethics of AI. Legal education is no different, but AI has to complement this rather than wagging the dog.

 

The tangible ways that AI is complementing the legal industry

At the moment, the LLB allows law students to learn, evaluate and apply black letter law to improve their understanding of it – after all that’s the basis of their legal advice. New skills modules based around 21st-century legal practice with innovation and entrepreneurship give them the knowledge they need for practice. Then the AI comes in once the foundations are in place.

The good news is that there are some very exciting things that AI can do to complement learning, such as AI-powered case studies that can adapt to student responses. Students could argue a case in front of a virtual AI judge who raises objections, asks follow-up questions, and delivers feedback based on legal precedent and reasoning.

AI can be used to develop interactive modules that present students with ethical dilemmas commonly encountered in legal practice. These modules could provide simulations or case studies where students must make ethical choices and receive feedback based on the ethical codes of conduct.

Some interesting legal assistant AIs are coming through too. Joshua Browder, CEO of the New York-based startup DoNotPay, devised a new way for unrepresented defendants to contest speeding tickets using a robot. The defendant wears a pair of glasses fitted with earphones and a microphone which would listen to the judge and give the accused the correct responses. It was due to be used in February 2023, until the legal profession heard of the plan and angry letters began to arrive.

Browder was even threatened with criminal charges that would carry prison time and decided ultimately that the law wasn’t quite ready for the robot defence lawyer, but it was there – lurking in the shadows.

 

What’s the verdict?

One thing that is for sure is that a generation of lawyers who not only understand AI but who can use it to innovate within legal services will greatly benefit us all. And this brings us back to the start and inclusivity.

Sadly in the UK, there remains a high number of people who have unmet legal needs. In the words of Sir Geoffrey Vos, Masters of the Rolls “Unfortunately we still have a paper-based county court which simply is not fit for purpose in 2021”. AI can help, we just need to get our heads around it.

 

Image: Provided by the University of Law and Canva.
Guest Post
This post has been contributed by a guest writer.