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By Mitchell Dolman and Sara Braniecki

“AI is the future” was a common phrase in the not-so-distant past. However, AI is here and making an impact. The big questions, or concerns for some, are how sophisticated will it become, and will it cause a drastic overhaul to the legal field, specifically legal education?

ChatGPT, a commonly discussed AI system today, has undergone several upgrades since its inception, and with each update, the system has improved its abilities. Legal professionals have been wary of ChatGPT’s capabilities. To understand its potential impact, they allowed ChatGPT to take law school exams and the Bar exam twice. ChatGPT 3.5 was the first to take the Bar exam, where it achieved a passing rate on two categories and failed the third, with the AI showing a general understanding of the legal domain. The latest version, ChatGPT 4, however, earned a score in the 90th percentile on the July 2022 Bar exam. While this shows ChatGPT’s strengths, it demonstrates possible issues for legal education.

ChatGPT’s disruption to legal education may largely occur outside of the testing space. Because law students would not have access to ChatGPT during exams, the AI system would be most useful to students for written work product, such as memoranda and briefs. The investigation should focus on how students using ChatGPT hinders proper legal research and writing skills and whether plagiarism could become a greater issue. ChatGPT works by linking whatever the user inputs in the message to every internet source it can reach within its own bandwidth; that bandwidth, with ChatGPT 4, is reportedly the entire internet. Therefore, when someone uses ChatGPT to write something regarding a specific topic, it pulls from every source on the internet to develop a coherent writing that aligns with the prompt. This results in young legal professionals who may lack foundational legal research and writing skills.

First, research skills are fundamental to legal professionals. Adequate research skills are required to locate pertinent cases, statutes, and regulations to analyze for use in the legal writing. Finding the appropriate authority can often require patience and a sophisticated skillset, but law students who use ChatGPT will not properly develop those skills because ChatGPT could do it for them. For example, a student could input “show me and summarize the case law from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that discusses supervisory liability,” and ChatGPT provides not only the four or five most prominent cases but also case summaries that students could use as part of their case explanations within their analysis. Moreover, once the student is provided with the precedential cases, they can continue further and input “show me all the case law in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that cited X case,” and ChatGPT will provide more case law that applies to the writing assignment. Students can use the same process for statutes and regulations.

If students regularly do this, they will not develop proficiency with legal-specific databases such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Bloomberg. Some may argue ChatGPT is a faster and more efficient way to research; however, ChatGPT makes mistakes, and if the student is not proficient enough to verify ChatGPT’s findings, the student could run into issues of using made-up case law and incorrect court holdings in their assignments. Multiple reports, and personal experimentation, indicate that ChatGPT will sometimes create case law that does not exist or incorrectly identify the holdings. Moreover, there have even been extreme instances of made-up material, such as when ChatGPT fabricated a sexual harassment story, almost ruining a lawyer and law professor’s career. Experts have indicated that once ChatGPT has created information, it remains within its “knowledge,” and ChatGPT continues to rely on the information despite inaccuracies. Unless further ChatGPT adaptations remove this software flaw, the system will remain unreliable and, therefore, law students should rely on ChatGPT when developing fundamental legal research skills.

A related aspect is the student’s written work product. Forming strong legal writing habits is paramount to any lawyer’s success, whether in a litigation or transactional context. However, with ChatGPT, students could have a nearly finished brief, memorandum, or contract written for them within seconds. After that, the student would only need to make minor edits to the work product to include cases and rules pulled and summarized by ChatGPT. This creates several problems. First, the student is not developing any baseline legal writing skills, such as CREAC or IRAC. Second, because the student will lack a basic understanding of the structure of legal writing, redlines or edits from a professor or supervisor may be challenging to implement. Lastly, ChatGPT highlights the potential plagiarism issue. Technically, the student is not completing the work themselves. Most law school honor codes would likely consider that a violation. For example, a current student who uses a prior student’s draft assignment as a template would violate most honor codes. However, if lawyers are utilizing ChatGPT in practice, will that slow educational institutions from punishing students for doing the same? On one hand, some may argue that punishing students for something that occurs in practice is wrong. On the other hand, law students should be developing fundamental skills in law school, despite what may occur in practice.

Ironically, when asking ChatGPT to write an article like this, it only discusses the upsides of its services. In response, ChatGPT stated, “ChatGPT is likely to have a significant impact on legal education. It can provide students with access to a wealth of legal knowledge and resources, help them develop their legal writing skills, prepare them for legal examinations, teach them about legal ethics and professional responsibility, and develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” While this may be true to some degree, students need to develop and rely on their own abilities, and tools like ChatGPT are just that, tools, and should be used as such.

AI technology has rapidly advanced, and its impact on various industries has been significant. The legal profession is no exception, and the emergence of AI language models such as ChatGPT will likely significantly impact legal education. What that impact will be is still unknown, but institutions must be prepared to create strong messages and policies to ensure legal education is not rendered obsolete.

 

*The authors graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in May 2023. Mitchell Dolman will be clerking for Chief Judge Wells of the Appellate Court of Maryland. After his clerkship, Mitchell will be working as a government contracts associate for Miles & Stockbridge in their Washington D.C office. Sara Braniecki will be joining Hogan Lovells this fall.