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How Are Law Schools Adapting Curricula and Policies for AI?

A survey of 29 law school deans found a majority of respondents considering curriculum changes, technology implementations, new academic integrity policies, and in some cases new courses or areas of study in light of AI.

A judge's gavel resting on a wooden table with a stack of books behind it.
From criminal cases over deepfakes to new laws governing its use, artificial intelligence is gaining impact and importance in the legal field, according to a recent study by the American Bar Association (ABA).

In August 2023, the ABA formed a task force to explore the risks and uses of AI in the legal field. Last week, the group shared findings from a survey of 29 law school deans on the effect AI is having on legal education. The survey found that schools may be trending toward integrating AI into their courses and extracurriculars to ensure graduates have the skill set to be successful in a technology-driven legal environment.

The survey asked about the integration of AI into curriculums for both theoretical and practical learning opportunities, as well as changes in academic integrity policies and AI’s use in applications. The authors cautioned in the report that the informal methodology, limited sample size and potential response bias should be taken into account, but “these survey responses do offer helpful insights into the extent to which law schools are engaging with AI-related issues.”

The majority of the responding schools offer opportunities to learn about and use AI, and 93 percent are considering future changes to the curriculum, the survey found.

As of last winter, 55 percent of respondents were offering classes on AI. Some focus solely on artificial intelligence, some on its practical applications in the legal field and some on the ethical implications. Sixty-two percent of respondents indicated they offered coursework centering on AI starting students’ first year, and an unspecified number offered professional development opportunities.

Even more common are opportunities to use AI: 83 percent of respondents said they implement AI into courses on topics such as legal writing, trial advocacy, litigation drafting and professional responsibility. A growing number of law schools also emphasize hands-on learning with simulation-based classes and clinics. The Vanderbilt AI Law Lab, formed in 2023, and the Suffolk Law Legal Innovation and Technology Lab, formed in 2017, are two examples.

Still, the survey found opportunities to expand the use of AI in law education. New concentrations, areas of study or courses specifically focused on AI’s legal and ethical applications are under consideration by 93 percent of the respondents.

Law schools are also weighing new teaching methodologies to protect against AI’s influence on students. Some schools have clarified that responses from generative AI are not to be considered a student’s own work and should fall under the umbrella of plagiarism regulations. Some also proposed more closed-book, in-person exams and specific guidelines for AI use in assignments to help in this regard.

In light of generative AI, 69 percent of respondents updated their academic integrity policies, but the nature of these policies varies. Some explicitly prohibit AI use schoolwide, some give leeway to individual instructors, and some require that students disclose the nature of their AI usage on assignments where it’s allowed.

Looking to the future, many universities have developed faculty committees specifically to discuss how to balance AI’s innovative potential with academic integrity and quality of education.

For future students, the responding law schools are largely undecided on where AI fits into the application process, with 62 percent saying they are still deciding on a policy. The rest either prohibit AI use in applications entirely (32 percent) or did not respond (7 percent).

“Clients now demand efficiency and transparency akin to online services and AI-enabled experiences, prompting lawyers to deliver faster, cost-effective solutions through technology,” the ABA website says.