Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Saturday, March 18, 2023

ChatGPT and Legal Writing

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that can, among other things, compose music, play games, and generate student essays and examination answers. Indeed, ChatGPT has already been studied to assess its efficacy on law school examinations. One study, for example, revealed that ChatGPT passed four law school exams at the University of Minnesota -- earning an average grade of C+ -- and an exam at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.[1]

The leader of the study examining ChatGPT in the law school performance context stated that “[a]lone, ChatGPT would be a pretty mediocre law student," and emphasized that “the bigger potential for the profession here is that a lawyer could use ChatGPT to produce a rough first draft and just make their practice that much more effective.”[2]

Certainly, in law school and in the legal profession, ChatGPT can have benefits. For example, ChatGPT can enhance efficiency by, for example, producing rough drafts of basic legal documents such as complaints, memorandums, interrogatories, and document requests.  Additionally, ChatGPT can assist individuals who cannot afford legal services in producing competent legal documents.

What ChatGPT cannot do, however, is teach law students how to think, how to write, and how to persuade. That, in a nutshell, is the point – and the problem. Below are two concerns regarding ChatGPT’s effects on law school and the legal profession.

1.    Law students need to learn how to think critically.

Learning how to think critically is among the most important skills needed to be a competent lawyer. And in recent years, many students begin their first year of law school lacking this skill. Thus, during the first year of law school, particularly in doctrinal and legal writing courses, students learn, among other things, how to read cases, understand complex legal concepts, synthesize the law, and apply the law to different fact patterns.

ChatGPT is problematic because, in some contexts, it does the thinking for the students. In so doing, it enables students (to some extent) to avoid the admittedly arduous process of understanding and interpreting complex legal doctrines, and presenting such doctrines (e.g., in a memorandum or a brief) in an understandable, logical, and persuasive manner. Indeed, David Kemp, an adjunct professor at Rutgers Law School, stated that “[i]f you’re asking it to organize several concepts, or are struggling to explain something in a way that’s really understandable, it can help.”[3]

That, again, is the point – and the problem.

Students should not be relying on artificial intelligence to organize complex legal concepts or explain them in a way that readers can understand. They should, through hard work and perseverance, develop critical thinking skills so that they can do it themselves. Otherwise, we are training students to rely not on their minds or their legal training, but on a technology that, at best, produces mediocre results.

Perhaps some would describe this as an “old school” approach to legal education. And they would be right. The quality of law students at many law schools has steadily declined in recent years, and ChatGPT threatens to worsen this problem by doing for law students what they should, after three years of legal training, be able to do for themselves.

2.    Law students need to learn how to write competently and persuasively.

It is no secret that judges and lawyers often criticize law graduates for their poor writing skills.[4] The reasons for this include, but are not limited to, insufficient preparation during students' undergraduate coursework, and insufficient dedication to required legal writing courses in law school.

This fact, however, only underscores the need to train students to think – and write – like lawyers. Students need to learn, for example, how to research the law, how to craft a compelling narrative, how to synthesize legal authority, how to reconcile unfavorable facts and law, and how to draft an organized and well-structured legal argument.

To do so, students need to embrace the writing process, which involves writing, rewriting, and editing. It requires critical thinking. Hard work. Perseverance. And the ability to write effectively and persuasively. ChatGPT is not going to teach students how to do this because, at least to some extent, it will do it for them. That makes the problem worse, not better.

To be sure, ChatGPT may produce the equivalent of a mediocre first draft, which students will then edit and re-edit to improve its quality. But good legal writing is not simply about editing. To be an excellent editor, you must first be an excellent writer and re-writer. That means embracing the writing process and acquiring the skills needed to draft, for example, a persuasive motion or appellate brief. As one professor explains.

Legal writing faculty interviewed by the ABA Journal agree that ChatGPT writing can model good sentence structure and paragraph structure. However, some fear that it could detract from students learning good writing skills. ‘If students do not know how to produce their own well-written analysis, they will not pass the bar exam,’ says April Dawson, a professor and associate dean of technology and innovation at the North Carolina Central University School of Law.’[5]

Professor Dawson may be correct that ChatGPT will reduce bar passage rates. What it will almost certainly do is ensure that students never become excellent persuasive writers. And it will also cause some students to rely on ChatGPT to do the hard work that they should be doing, and that is necessary, to produce quality legal work.  This is the risk that reliance on ChatGPT – particularly for complex legal motions and briefs – engenders.

Ultimately, ChatGPT can certainly have benefits. Among those is increasing efficiency and productivity. But law students still need to have the analytical thinking and writing skills to be able to interpret complex legal texts, draft persuasive legal arguments, and present compelling arguments before a court.  As such, ChatGPT’s benefits must be balanced against the need to train students to think, write, and practice like lawyers.

Perhaps this is an “old school” approach, but that approach has produced extraordinary attorneys who have transformed the law and the legal profession through their advocacy.

Simply put, you cannot replace an intelligent, thinking human being.

 

[1] See Samantha Murphy Kelly, “Chat GPT Passes Exams from Law and Business Schools” (January 26, 2023), available at: ChatGPT passes exams from law and business schools | CNN Business

[2] Reuters, “Chat GPT Passes Law School Exams Despite ‘Mediocre’ Performance” (January 25, 2023) available at: ChatGPT passes law school exams despite 'mediocre' performance | Reuters.

[3] Kelly, supra note 1.

[4] See Ann Nowak, The Struggle with Basic Writing Skills (March 1, 2021), available at: The Struggle with Basic Writing Skills | Published in Legal Writing (legalwritingjournal.org)

[5] Kelly, supra note 1.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2023/03/chatgpt-and-legal-writing.html

Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink

Comments

This is written as though ChatGPT isn't improving at the speed of light. In 5 years it's going to write briefs better than Oliver Wendell Holmes ever did. We're all in for a very very very different world.

Posted by: Tam Hunt | Mar 24, 2023 2:34:52 PM

Surprising how few lawyers are using chatGPT. It's really a legacy institution

Posted by: cookie clicker | Apr 21, 2023 12:42:36 AM

Many articles are shared with very useful content.

Posted by: jacksmith | Sep 5, 2023 7:39:53 PM

The emergence of ChatGPT in legal writing sparks a crucial debate about its impact on law students and the legal profession. While it offers efficiency in drafting basic legal documents, the concern raised is substantial. Critical thinking, a fundamental skill for lawyers, risks being overshadowed as ChatGPT handles some aspects of the thinking process. The essence of legal education lies in nurturing students to independently interpret complex legal doctrines and present persuasive arguments. As the legal writing process involves continuous refinement, reliance on ChatGPT may compromise the development of essential skills. Striking a balance between technology's benefits and preserving the core of legal education becomes paramount.

Posted by: GPTNederlands | Jan 4, 2024 1:46:21 AM

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