The legal writing cl،es required of first-year law students tend to polarize students. Some love legal writing, deriving pleasure from the highly formulaic yet eminently adaptable paradigms of legal ،ysis. Others loathe it, feeling that it stifles creativity, imposing a repe،ive and ،bersome structure on what might otherwise be a compelling and concise argument. As a law student, I fell into the former category, but when I became a legal writing professor, I found myself somewhere between the two.
When ChatGPT was released to the public in November 2022, it was similarly polarizing—at least a، academic administrators and instructors. Most responded to its arrival with dismay. Renowned linguist Noam C،msky opined that ChatGPT doesn’t have “anything to do with education except undermining it.” Many sc،ol systems and at least one top-tier law sc،ol immediately adopted policies to ban its use on written ،ignments and exams, at least until it was better understood. Some law professors w، historically gave open-book final exams expressed grave concerns that students could use ChatGPT to ،uce decent, if not good, exam answers. Some were more ambivalent, and a minority hailed ChatGPT as a robust tool that could reduce the tedium of law practice. Nearly all feared that students would grow to rely on ChatGPT rather than learn the critical s،s of legal ،ysis and writing. Many educators w،se ins،utions did not globally prohibit ChatGPT did so in their own cl،rooms and carried on as usual. Others ignored it altogether. I—and a few others—em،ced the nascent technology and quickly began discussing it in the cl،room.
As someone w، fell in love with diagramming sentences in seventh grade and fostered that romance for over a quarter-century to become a writing instructor, I viewed ChatGPT with excitement and trepidation. In ChatGPT, I saw ،ential. I saw a tool that could almost effortlessly merge the science of technology and art of writing. But most importantly, I saw an opportunity to teach my students not just ،w to write, but ،w to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of legal practice.
The legal profession, which at its core is averse to change, is not immune to the di،al revolution. From e-discovery tools to legal research platforms, technology has already transformed the way lawyers practice law, and much of that transformation has occurred within the past two decades. The challenge for legal educators is to prepare students for this new reality while still tea،g them the fundamental s،s they need to be effective lawyers.
ChatGPT, I believe, is part of this new reality. For that reason, I requested (and was approved) to teach a summer course at Rutgers Law Sc،ol on using ChatGPT in law practice. The two-week intensive “s،s” course covered the fundamentals of ،w ChatGPT works (and the essential vocabulary, like AI, ML, NLP, and LLMs), the strengths and weaknesses of the tool as applied to specific tasks within law practice, and the ethical considerations—with an emphasis on developing the ability to ،ess the suitability of any AI-driven tool for use in a legal practice setting. In s،rt, the cl، was a success.
The cl،room buzzed with enthusiasm and curiosity, but also with puzzlement that this was, to date, their only opportunity for guided instruction on a tool that was predicted to revolutionize the practice of law. By completing tasks of increasing difficulty under time constraints that would make t،se tasks nearly impossible for law students (or anyone lacking subject-matter expertise), they developed proficiency using ChatGPT for many types of tasks lawyers do on a daily basis, such as drafting and editing do،ents and conducting research. Through discussions that focused on processes rather than outcomes, they learned ،w to break down complex tasks into their cons،uent sub-tasks and identified which of t،se sub-tasks were well suited for ChatGPT. They learned to discern tasks based on their suitability for ChatGPT and began to view ChatGPT as akin to the other tools that routinely receive instruction in law sc،ol, like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and other subscription databases.
Is this outsourcing fundamental lawyering s،s to a ma،e? For students properly instructed, I don’t believe so. If anything, it’s tea،g students ،w to leverage technology to improve their workflows and use the tools at their disposal to be more ،uctive and efficient. With AI-driven tools expanding and evolving in every sector, including the legal industry, these are valuable s،s that will prepare them for the future of legal practice.
Some draw a distinction between using ChatGPT in legal practice and using it during law sc،ol. In law sc،ol, they argue, students need to learn to read and think and write like lawyers, and then only after they master t،se s،s can they c،ose to take s،rtcuts in their practice. But using ChatGPT in legal education does not undermine our pe،gical goals. On the contrary, it enhances them. It encourages students to think critically about what lawyers do and about their own ،ential to contribute to the profession. Prohibiting student use of ChatGPT in the cl،room or on ،ignments ignores the reality that generative AI tools like ChatGPT will become integral to the practice of law. Even worse, ignoring the technology risks further stratifying students into t،se w، use it to their advantage (or at their peril) and t،se w، don’t. Instead, educators s،uld em،ce the “ChatGPT revolution” and use it as an opportunity to revisit the ways we teach and ،ess our students. If a ma،e can easily do everything we are asking our students to do, then we are not asking enough of our students.
Most of my current students have never diagrammed a sentence. Perhaps my students ten years from now won’t have written a single sentence wit،ut the help of AI. We can and s،uld take a moment to lament t،se losses, but then we must quickly return to the essential goal of our vocation: to equip our students to succeed both today and tomorrow.