Professor: Learn AI in Law School. Your Career Depends on It

An Arizona State University professor said AI won't replace lawyers, but lawyers who use AI will replace those who don't.
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Published on August 25, 2023
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  • ASU Professor Gary Marchant said it's hard to teach a law course without having some connection to AI.
  • The first major breakthrough in AI in law was an AI program called eDiscovery, which collects evidence for court cases.
  • Marchant said it's up to lawyers who understand AI to address new issues in copyright.
  • Marchant wants to equip and educate students with AI skills to prevent over-dependence and to prepare them for an AI-dependent world after school.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is influencing colleges across the undergraduate and graduate levels. Arizona State University (ASU) is helping law students jump headfirst into AI's effects on law.

BestColleges spoke with Gary Marchant, a Regents Professor and faculty director of the Center for Law Science Innovation at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Marchant said ASU's law school has been dealing with AI for about a decade. The school has a four-year-old AI course, research projects, grant work, conferences, and workshops to help law students make transition to an AI-driven world.

According to a press release announcing students can use generative AI like ChatGPT on applications, the law school is tackling safety, privacy, security, accountability, discrimination, regulation, liability, and rights of AI systems.

Along with AI-specific classes — like Privacy, Big Data, and Emerging Technologies, — ASU integrates AI privacy and security issues into numerous courses. Marchant teaches eight courses and talks about AI in all of them.

"It's sort of hard now to actually teach a law course without having some connection with AI," Marchant said. "AI is just becoming such a prevalent part of our society. And so every course will fairly soon include some component probably of AI, I imagine, in the next couple years."

'Lawyers Who Use AI Will Replace Lawyers Who Don’t Use AI'

According to Marchant, if first-year law students don't know how to use AI when they graduate in three years, they can't be lawyers because of how integrated it will be in the field.

First-year law students need to begin learning how to use AI because if they don't, they'll be at a disadvantage by the time they graduate. Marchant said the first major breakthrough in AI in law was a program called eDiscovery, an AI that helps lawyers sift through and gather court evidence and data.

Marchant recalled the tediousness of being a young lawyer sitting in a room for days, sifting through hundreds of boxes of legal documents as his eyes glazed over. He said it was inefficient, incredibly expensive, and inaccurate.

Marchant said while AIs automate these processes, it's still crucial for a lawyer to supervise the process. Other uses of AI in law include helping with legal research or contract analysis for due diligence.

"The phrase in the legal community is that AI is not going to replace lawyers, but lawyers who use AI will replace lawyers who don't use AI," Marchant said.

Marchant said lawyers have recently been using generative AIs like ChatGPT to draft briefs and policies.

"I heard a recent story of a lawyer who basically was asked to draft a privacy policy for his client, and he asked ChatGPT to do it, and it was very good. He had to make just a couple of changes," Marchant said. "It took 15 minutes of his time. It normally would've taken him six or seven hours of his time."

Since many lawyers depend on hourly pay to draft policy, this practice loses money for lawyers but saves clients lots of money. Marchant said that taking advantage of these tools will make lawyers competitive in the legal market.

AI Creating New Opportunities for Lawyers in Copyright

Marchant said AI is important for practicing law and creating new topics and questions for lawyers to deal with. Copyright is one of the largest conversations in the arts fields.

"So I, as a human being, can go read a whole bunch of websites and then go write something that's fair use. I'm not taking anything away from that," he said. "But this is different than a human because they memorize everything, even though they're not downloading it, they basically can keep a perfect copy in their mind, and they can essentially steal people's style and their content in important ways that some of these lawsuits have brought."

He said the country's copyright law was made before AI, so it's up to legislatures, courts, and lawyers who understand AI to make policies addressing these new issues.

Adjusting to AI in the Classroom

ASU is encouraging students to use AI on assignments. Marchant said other law schools may ban it, but he believes other schools will eventually follow in ASU's footsteps.

ASU is assessing the appropriate ways for students to use AI while accounting for potential pitfalls of AI "hallucinating facts" and students becoming overdependent on an AI. Despite the risks, Marchant believes it is essential for students to understand the systems they will encounter in the workforce.

"I think that's a really critical part of legal training now, is to understand what these tools can and cannot do, how to use them carefully instead of just prohibiting their use," Marchant said. "So, we think it's integral now to training to be a lawyer, to understand how these systems can help you, but can also be risky if you don't use them properly."

He said it's important to never rely solely on an AI system. The most powerful combination is a lawyer plus a computer.

Marchant said AI is proving to be a real gut check for the faculty. Professors must address it in every syllabus. But not every ASU law professor embraces AI with open arms — one of his colleagues doesn't even allow laptops in the classroom.

The university is allowing professors to determine their approaches. Marchant is interested to see how this experiment will play out: How will students react, and how will teaching and learning approaches change over time?

"We're not trying to train lawyers to be year-2000 lawyers. We're trying to teach them to be 2025 lawyers," said Marchant. "And AI will be a fundamental part of being a lawyer by 2025."